In this week's portion, Vayeira, the Torah recounts the tremendous degree to which Abraham went to welcome guests to his home. It was the third day since he had circumcised himself.
In this week's portion, Vayeira, the Torah recounts the tremendous degree to which Abraham went to welcome guests to his home. It was the third day since he had circumcised himself. Notwithstanding this, Abraham "was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day" (Genesis 18:1). Rashi, the classic 11th century commentator, provides two observations from this verse that shed light on just how much Abraham was devoted to receiving strangers. First, Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent so that he could be able to scout out for potential guests; were he to stay bedridden inside his home, he would risk missing passersby. Second, the Torah notes that it was "in the heat of the day" to illustrate that Hashem made it extra hot so that people would not be inclined to travel, and as such Abraham would not be troubled to expend effort on their behalf. Nonetheless, Hashem took note that Abraham was depressed because there were no travelers whom he could assist, and thus brought him three angels in human form. The Torah then relates the great hospitality Abraham and his wife, Sarah, displayed for these guests.
Towards the end of the portion, the Torah relates that Abraham "planted an aishel in B'ersheva, and there he proclaimed the Name of Hashem, G-d of the Universe" (ibid. 21:33). Rashi indicates that according to the Talmudic sage Shmuel, the Hebrew word aishel refers to a lodging place. Abraham utilized this "Jewish Holiday Inn" as a mechanism to act kindly to guests and thereby introduce them to the recognition of G-d. Moreover, aishel is composed of three Hebrew letters - aleph, shin, and lamed. These letters form an acronym for eating (achilah), drinking (shtiyah), and escorting (leviyah). Perhaps Abraham was hinting at the importance of proper treatment of guests.
The Haftorah of this week's portion also relates an incident of tremendous kindness to visitors. A woman prepared meals for the prophet Elisha (the primary disciple of Elijah). She and her husband noticed that Elisha would frequently pass through their town. They went so far in their generosity as to prepare for him his own private room, with a bed, table, chair, and lamp (II Kings 4:8-10).
Thus, we see how important it is to show kindness to guests. Of course, it is a foregone conclusion that we should show kindness to members of our own household. In many respects, however, it is easier to be receptive to those who occasion to visit only once in a blue moon. The better dishes are put out, we dress a little nicer, conversation tends to be more sophisticated, and we mind our manners to a higher degree. Once our guests leave, however, we tend to "let our hair down" and revert back to routine behavior. One needs to ask himself the following questions: "I relate to my guest how happy I am to see him, but do I inquire of my spouse's well-being on a daily basis? I ask how my guest's child is doing in school, but do I ask my children what they are involved with?" In many ways, it is those who are closest to us that we neglect the most.
This family-guest dichotomy parallels that of the Shabbat-High Holidays phenomenon. For many of us, we step it up a notch for three days a year. We don our choicest garments, disclose our faulty conduct, and pray to Hashem to bless us with a good year. We go all out to greet Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with heightened respect, but as is all too often the case, once we break the fast, we loosen our ties, kick off our shoes, and revert back to our usual ways. One Shabbat after another goes by without our even recognizing it. We must do something so that this "family member" doesn't get forgotten, to sanctify and elevate it from the rest of the week. Just like we should never neglect members of our own household, we should never neglect our own weekly holy day. Do we remember to tell our husband or wife, "I love you"? Do we remember to tell our precious Shabbat, "I love you"? It has been said that, "More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews." Isn't it time for that statement to change?
Daniel Lasar, a graduate of Emory Law School in Atlanta, is currently studying at the Center for Torah Studies at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
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