Vayeira and Hospitality

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Let's talk about hospitality and what it means to be a good host. In this week's Torah portion Vayeira we have two iconic examples of hospitality; one is a good example of how to be a good host and the other not so good.

In Genesis chapter 18 our hero Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent in the hot, hot sun. Squinting into the bright sun, as he sees the hazy shadows of three people approaching. He doesn’t wait until he knows who they are, or which tribe they belong to, or if they are Jewish, but at ninety-nine years old, and remember just 3 days after his own circumcision surgery, he jumps up to welcome them into his and Sarah’s tent. We soon find out that these people are angels and it is from this story that rabbis of the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) state that “hospitality to strangers is greater than an encounter with the Shechinah (the Divine presence).”

In our world, we are often suspicious of others rather than being welcoming to the stranger. We too often define “the other” as a threat than as a potential new friend. The irony is that our tradition has a deep connection to hospitality at its core. 

The second example of hospitality is in Chapter 19. Abraham's nephew Lot who learned the importance of hospitality from Avraham offers hospitality to three visitors. Lot lived in the city of Sodom and the idea of hospitality was contrary to the selfish values of Sodom. Lot tries to protect these three visitors from a local mob. He offers his own two daughters to the mob instead (this is nuts and a story for another day). This is an example of hospitality gone mad. Lot is not using good judgment and somehow thinks that being hospitable to strangers means he has to give up his own daughters. Crazy!! My guess is that he has allowed a rigid interpretation of a religious demand to cloud his sense of humanity.

I believe that many of us need a spiritual base to ground ourselves because without a spiritual base we might be inclined to make selfish decisions and to have a selfish outlook. In the end being a good human to other humans is what God really wants of us.