Parashat Vayera

A Lesson in Hospitality

If people don't feel comfortable in the community, they won't stay long enough to enjoy its richness.

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Provided by the Jewish Outreach Institute, an organization dedicated to creating a more open and welcoming Judaism.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Abraham and Sarah represent roles models par excellence for what we are trying to achieve in creating a welcoming Jewish community. Consider the following from this week's Torah portion:

"Adonai appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. 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, he said, 'Friends, if it is all right with you, do not go rush ahead and pass me by. Let me bring you some water; bathe your feet and rest under the tree. And let me get you something to eat so that you may refresh yourselves; then go on--seeing that you have come this way.' They replied, 'Go ahead. [We appreciate it.]'"

jewish outreach institute"Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, 'Quick, grab three seahs of our best flour! Knead it and bake some bread!' Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant, who rushed to prepare it. He took cheese and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them; and he waited on them [the visitors] under the tree as they ate." (Gen 18:1-8)

"The visitors set out from there and looked down toward Sodom, Abraham walking with them to see them off." (Gen. 18:16)

They Are A Model

The welcoming that Abraham and Sarah provided these "strangers" should be our model for what it takes to make people feel welcome in our community. What we practice in our homes should be mimicked in our synagogues and community institutions. Abraham didn't wait. He rushed to greet his visitors. He made sure that they were comfortable and satiated. And then he walked them out, away from his tent, to make sure that they found their way.

The Torah doesn't waste words. It provides all these details because they matter. Creating a welcoming environment is about attention to details, with the most important detail being how comfortable your guest feels.

Some will argue that creating a welcoming community is not enough. And we would agree. This is only one example of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, but it is certainly the right place to start. If people don't feel comfortable inside the community, then they won't be there long enough to enjoy the riches that it has to offer.

There is a debate among the Rabbis as to the identity of these three visitors. Some argue that they were angels, messengers sent by God. Perhaps the message was not one they brought to Abraham and Sarah. Instead, the message is in the behaviors that they provoked.

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Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.