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Open your Hearts! Open Your Homes!

Friday, 8 November, 2019 - 2:33 pm

I am asked all the time ‘what is the greatest Jewish value, belief, truth or Ideal?’ G-d never told me directly but I think the answer may be gleaned from the life stories of the first Jews to ever live; Abraham and Sarah. Over the next few weeks we will be reading about them and their lives in the weekly Torah portions.

Of all the Ideals important to Jews, Abraham and Sarah personified the lifestyle of Charity and acts of loving kindness. To be sure, they taught the world many ideological truths that the world knew nothing about, including monotheism and so forth, but when you analyze their life as it is recorded in the Torah, Abraham and Sarah symbolized, more than anything else, the attribute of Chesed-kindness towards others. We are told that they fought for justice and equal rights for all, they helped anyone in need, fed the hungry, protected the vulnerable and on and on. Of course these traits have become the hallmark of the Jewish People ever since.

One of the oldest Jewish practices and traits of kindness is the Mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim, opening our homes for guests. This practice too is traced all the way back to Abraham and Sarah. The Torah tells to what lengths they would go to open their hearts and home for guests. Even when Abraham was extremely weak he was there, together with Sarah, cooking up a storm for wayfarers who happen to pass by their home. They spared nothing. At one point they decided to open the first ‘bed and breakfast’ for any one in need, but with two differences; they served not only breakfast but lunch and dinner as well, and it was all free of charge.

This important character trait is so central to Judaism and Jewish life that we are told that “greater is hosting guests than even welcoming the Shchinah" (G-ds presence). And this too is derived from the story of Abraham. In the narrative, G-d comes to visit Abraham and while communicating with him, Abraham suddenly sees three strangers pass by. He asks G-d to excuse him while he invites those strangers into his home for a meal. G-d waits until Abraham is done feeding his guest and only then continues to converse with him. From this we see that hosting guests is more worthy and takes precedence even over welcoming G-d’s presence. Pretty amazing.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, our home always had what we called ‘guest traffic’. There was not a weekend that went by in which our home did not have guest. Many times we had to move out of our rooms to make place for people who came to stay over for a Shabbos or holiday. I remember many a night when my bones got a good work out as there was nowhere for me to sleep but on the floor or on the kitchen chairs, or the time I ended up with 10 guests sleeping in my room, no exaggeration (I had a big room). We made no big deal of this. After all, if God can be put on hold, then certainly my comfortable night sleep can be put on hold.

It saddens me to see how this ideal is lost on many of us. We live in suburbia behind closed doors and gates, and it’s rare that we come in contact with strangers. The result is that this fantastic Jewish ideal is for many Jewish homes an almost nonexistent phenomenon. I’ve spoken to many fine people who have confided that their home never hosts a stranger. This is very sad. The result is that we are disconnected from strangers to the point where we stop paying attention to them. It hurts to admit, but i have been told by fellow Jews that they have visited Shuls for a daily minyan or for a Shabbos and that not one person approached them to even say hello, let alone find out who they are, or if they need an invite for Shabbos, or anything else. This is very disturbing. I believe this is the result of falling out of the habit of hosting guests on a steady basis or never having been in that habit to begin with.

So the next time you see someone sitting in shul who you do not know, please go over to them, welcome them, say hello, if you can, invite them to your home for a meal or for a Shabbos. If you need to move one of your children out of ‘their’ room, so be it. Besides the mitzvah and kind deed, it will make an invaluable impression on your children as they will be part of something incredibly important as well. One can start with Friday night meals and not necessarily with strangers. Invite a friend, someone you know. Get into the habit of hosting guests. It will transform yourselves and your children and you will be acting very Jewish at the same time. Abraham did it, Sarah did it and hundreds of generations of Jews did it. Let’s follow this old time honored tradition and open our hearts and homes to others. That is what a Jewish home looks like. A true Shabbos table is one where strangers are present.

Caring for strangers and doing acts of kindness for others is indeed the greatest Jewish Value.

We learned many great values from Abraham and Sarah; monotheism, circumcision, self-sacrifice and so on, but the most important Abrahamic value which became the Hallmark of the Jewish people is the value of Chesed/kindness towards others in all forms.

Open your hearts! Open your homes!

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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