Parashat Vayera – Erev Shabbat 11 November 2022 (5783)
Week of 6-12 November 2022
Torah portion: Genesis 18:1-22:24 Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13:2) The New Testament has numerous passages that encourage the believers to practice hospitality. But it all started here, in today’s parashah: Abraham’s hospitality is the first case in the Bible that talks about the virtues of hosting strangers and caring for them, and indeed he seemed to have entertained angels without quite knowing it, at least not at the beginning.
The early rabbinic interpreters noted that the previous parashah Lech Lecha ended with Abraham being circumcised (see Gen. 17:26). It was concluded therefore that Abraham was sitting down at the beginning of today’s parashah because he was still in pain after his circumcision. In this interpretation the opening word vayera refers to God visiting the sick Abraham. Rashi writes: “The Holy One, Blessed is He, came and inquired about Abraham’s welfare.” (Rashi’s commentary on Gen. 18:1)
So it was God himself who first showed an example of caring for those in need. God took the first step and Abraham learned this valuable lesson and extended his own care for strangers in the same way. Thus even though he was still unwell, Abraham had not retired to the quiet quarters of his tent, but rather sat at its very entrance. A Midrash tells us that Abraham was so keen to welcome visitors that his dwelling had openings on all four sides so that strangers approaching from every side would feel welcomed. (See “Hospitality” in Jewish Encyclopedia.) Abraham’s eagerness to receive visitors was rewarded: despite the hot day, three men were passing his dwelling. When he saw them approaching, he did not just wait for them to come closer, he “ran toward them” (Gen. 18:2). Abraham invited them in, made them comfortable, prepared a feast for them, and served them himself, standing over them beneath the tree as they ate (Gen. 18:4-8). And at the end of the encounter Abraham walked with them to make sure that his visitors knew their way.
Abraham’s hospitality is legendary, it is not usual to go to such an extent to welcome strangers in one’s house. But it has become an example for us all, the children of Abraham. In Judaism welcoming guests is one of the mitzvot, a legal obligation. It is also a very important moral duty and obligation in Islam. In Christianity, as outlined at the beginning of today’s reflection, it is considered to be part of our nature and service in this world. It is not always easy for us to follow through with this obligation in this world of professional hospitality places, like hotels and restaurants; but maybe, amidst all of it, there is still space for us to sit down after a hard day and learn the joy of entertaining strangers. Who knows, maybe they will end up being God’s angels?!
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Think of, and discuss, other examples of hospitality in the book of Genesis! 2. Make a plan for yourself or your group to extend hospitality to strangers!
Bibliography: The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary, The ArtScroll Series (New York: 1995); Jewish Encyclopedia, https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7905-hospitality)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone, New Zealand, Bat kol Alumna: 2002, 2003