[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Vayera
Kerry M. Olitzky
kolitzky at joi.org
Mon Oct 22 17:25:52 GMT 2007
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
October 27, 2007 / 15 Cheshvan, 5768
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 alright 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.]'
"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)
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 Gd. Perhaps
the message was not one they brought to Abraham and Sarah. Instead, the
message is in the behaviors that they provoked.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is the author of many inspiring books that bring the
Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday life, and is most recently the
co-author of 20 Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do
(And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren and Jewish
Holidays: A Brief Introduction for Christians.
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You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
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