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Parashat Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24)

“The Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre;
he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.” (Genesis 18:1)

Parashat Vayeira opens with Abraham making a huge fuss over three strangers (who turn out to be angels) passing by his tent. Since Abraham interrupts a revelation from God to welcome them, the rabbis comment, “Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a).

Abraham also demonstrates hospitality at the visit’s end. Abraham not only rushes to greet his guests (Gen. 18:2), he also walks with them when they leave, extending the protective shelter of his tent to the open road (Gen. 18:16). This practice is enshrined in Jewish law and is considered even more important than feeding a guest (Mishneh Torah Laws of Mourning 14:2). Not escorting a guest home is compared to murder (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 46b).

S’forno (c. 1470–c. 1550; Italian commentator and physician) claims because Abraham performs this chesed, or kindness, to strangers, God reveals to him the plan to destroy Sodom and Gemorah. Abraham challenges God to adhere to a code of justice: don’t destroy the righteous along with the wicked. God responds by going one step further, offering to spare the wicked because of the merit of the righteous: mercy trumps justice. The protective shelter of Abraham’s tent now extends to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorah.

Abraham’s first act of local hospitality becomes the bridge to his second act of global hospitality. Abraham sets a high bar, though; most of us restrict our invitations to people we already know, but Abraham twice offers sanctuary to total strangers. Last week God exhorts Abraham to be a great nation and a blessing. Abraham responds this week by embracing strangers.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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