Friday, October 18, 2013

Thank You & Hospitality - Parshat Vayera

If you open to the beginning of a chumash with Rashi, you’ll see the first comment that Rashi offers is one he learned from his father. In this way he pays the highest honor he can to his greatest teacher.  In coming to this parshah, I'd like to share with you a drashah (one of few to have been preserved given the largely extemporaneous way he tended to deliver sermons) about the importance of hospitality, of welcoming, taken from the teachings of my mentor, Rabbi Meier Schimmel, zichrono livrachah.  This comes from the early 1960's but applies just as much to synagogue life today as it did then.
Today, as we think about "welcoming" and synagogues - we must consider the experience of him or her who comes for the first time.  Or who longs for a Jewish connection but never comes into the synagogue at all.  - Rabbi Schimmel, teaching about Abraham, teaches us a lesson about these people:
Vayera elav Adoshem b’Elonei Mamre. “And the Lord appeared unto him, Abraham, in the Grove of Mamre.” As he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day we see a picture of mercy – courtesy – brotherly love and hospitality. Our Father Abraham.
With Abraham we see the beginning of higher spiritual life in humanity. He planted an eshel in B’er Sheva. What is the meaning of eshel? Some interpreted eshel as an inn – others as a park. But the three letters in eshel stand for three meanings:
Alef for achilo – eating,
Shin for sh’teyoh –drinking,
Lamed for linon – lodging.
He built this eshel let us think of it as a sort of pavilion – open on all sides so that from whichever direction a traveler might come – the open door invited him to enter and rest.
Abraham recognized no distinction of class or creed, race or nationality. All were welcome – and were greeted, baruch habo – “blessed and welcome are you.” He put his guests at ease, and made them feel that in accepting his hospitality, they were honoring him.
The Torah lays stress upon consideration for the stranger – that sense of loneliness, of being unwanted, stirs Jewish compassion, to open the doors of our heart. So we must take the homeless to our homes and the stranger to our heart.
Returning to the opening verse of our sidro – what was the 99 year old Abraham doing at the door of his tent in the heat of the day?
He is looking for strangers –
Despite the heat and his physical weakness, Rashi tells us it was the third day after his circumcision. He lifted up his eyes and saw three persons approaching. He runs to meet them – and entreats them – do not pass by – come into my dwelling – wash your tired feet and rest in the shade of the trees until I can provide you with food and drink.
He rejoices when they accept his invitation. He hastens into the tent of his wife Sara – asking for the best food to be prepared. He serves the food himself urging them to take their fill. Blessing them as they leave. This was Abraham our Forefather.
Can you visualize this act of love? What a wonderful feeling and satisfaction Abraham must have had –
This is our heritage - in his footsteps we should walk.
In our daily prayers we say:
Elu d’varim sh’adam ochel perotehem b’olam hazeh, v’hakeren kayemet b’olam habah.
“These are the things – the fruits of which a man enjoys in this world – while the stock remains for him, for the world to come: honor father and mother, the practice of charity, timely attendance at the house of worship, and to bring in orchim - haknasat orchim.
The good deed, mitzvah, is to take care of an oreach. Oreach means stranger – and it is no surprise that the term also refers to a poor man – when one is lost and alone – even if he has money and possessions – he is poor. Therefore we must open our door and above all our heart to welcome him with baruch habo – “welcome is he who cometh.”
Yet this is difficult to do. It is difficult to be a stranger, and it is also frequently difficult to welcome the stranger, it forces us outside of ourselves, yet this is what Abraham sets for us as an example, for what God would have us do.
Let us remember – when an oreach, a stranger – whoever he may be – enters our synagogue – we must greet him with the warmth of our heart – to mean it fully, baruch habo, “welcome are you.” Sholom aleychem, “peace be unto thee.”
Let us also recognize that the oreach, need not be a literal stranger, he or she could be a long time member but someone who for whatever reason feels distanced from the community. In that case we must find the ways to say “welcome back,” and “share in this peace which is yours, too.” Similarly the oreach could be someone who is quite active, but whose good deeds and good efforts have gone unrecognized, unacknowledged, unrewarded. In that case, too, we must learn the proper ways to express the sense of honor we feel at having such a person in our midst and as a part of our community.
Therefore, members of this holy congregation, consider, how well will we be able to rest and find peace – when we know we gave rest and peace to others – as it is written,

V’ahavtem et hager, “Love ye then the stranger,” ki gerim hayitem beretz Mitzraim, “for you have been strangers in the Land of Egypt.” And as you would like to be treated – so treat thy fellow man. Let me wish you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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