Of Guests and Hospitality
November 5, 2020
I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. Yasher Koach to those of you who were able to join us for the first installment of our November “Quasi-Jewish Film Festival,” a few days ago. Our next “episode” will be this Monday, November 9, when we will learn (believe it or not) about the Jewish origins of America’s favorite dolls, Ken and Barbie, among other interesting things.
Well, if that doesn’t sound too bizarre to you, we hope you will join us virtually after the Monday evening minyan at 8:00PM.
This Shabbat continues our introduction to our Forefather, Avraham. We read in the opening sentences from the portion of Va’yaira: וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יְהוָ֔ה בְּאֵלֹנֵ֖י מַמְרֵ֑א וְה֛וּא יֹשֵׁ֥ב פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל כְּחֹ֥ם הַיּֽוֹם׃
The LORD appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה׃
Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground.
From these brief words, our tradition tells us that Avraham came to teach the importance of the Mitzvah of Welcoming Guests into Jewish homes. After all, if Avraham could accommodate a few folks on the third day after his bris (at the age of 99), then certainly, it shouldn’t be too difficult for us to mirror his graciousness.
In fact, there is even a Rabbinic saying that reads: גדולה הכנסת אורחים יותר מקבלת פני השכינה- Welcoming a guest is even greater than welcoming the Divine Presence! Personally, I think that sounds like a pretty good endorsement for performing this commandment.
Backing up about twenty years ago, I was at shul on a Friday night when a younger gentleman walked into the back of the chapel. Noticing that he did not come with a family, Rachel and I invited him for dinner.
After declining the invitation at first, he eventually agreed to join us and we all shared a lovely Shabbat meal together. We found out during the evening that he was Israeli and traveling through the United States after having completed his mandated army service. After dinner, I began walking him back to his car when I innocently asked him where he was staying. He explained that he was essentially living out of his car until he got “set-up on his feet.”
Rachel and I felt guilty allowing him to leave under such stressful conditions, so we invited him to come back to the house. He wound up staying with us for just over three weeks.
During that time, he shared his own words of Torah with us, cooked Sephardic meals for us on occasion and explained how his goal was to really evaluate the world from a spiritual perspective. He was a loving and caring person who, based on our conversations, seemed to really want to take the pulse of the soul of society. He visited nursing homes, went to food kitchens to assist the needy and meandered about various JCCs.
One Thursday, I came back from work around noon excited to have our guest join me on pre-Shabbat errands. As I walked into the house and knocked on the guestroom door I was greeted by silence. He had packed up his belongings, moved out unannounced, and it was as if, he was never there. I couldn’t understand how he had shown up so suddenly and left so abruptly.
From a mystical perspective, I came to believe that we actually had the opportunity to host none other than, Eliyahu HaNavi. I think he had come to do a spiritual check in on the world and concluded that there was still much work to do.
When the liminality of the pandemic eventually concludes, I hope that we can all again enjoy the opportunity to fulfill this very unique commandment.
And if you should happen to host Eliyahu HaNavi, I hope that the prophet will conclude that the world is ready to be redeemed.
Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD