Food For the Soul
Why Is Inviting Guests Such a Mitzvah?
The Torah portion of Vayeira opens with Abraham lying at the entrance to his tent, which is on the main thoroughfare and has entrances on all sides to attract as many visitors as possible. Abraham is 99 years old, and he’s in great pain, as it is the third day (which we’re told is the most painful day) after his circumcision. G-d has come over to the tent to perform the mitzvah of visiting the sick, bikur cholim. Imagine that – G-d visiting Abraham at his sickbed!
Suddenly, Abraham spots three Arab nomads walking through the desert. It’s an unbearably hot day, Abraham is in tremendous pain, and he has the most Divine visitor . . . what should he do?
What would we do in this scenario? Look away and make believe as if we didn’t see the hungry travelers? Decide that talking to the Almighty is more important than greeting some pagans who deny His very existence? Abraham had no such hesitations. He jumped up, ran out into the scorching heat and invited the three nomads (who were angels in disguise) to join him for a feast—never mind that he was in the middle of chatting with G-d!
Thus, the Talmud concludes, “Welcoming guests is greater than greeting G-d!” In Jewish tradition, Abraham is the manifestation of kindness on earth. This story is but one example. Later in the Parshah, we learn that Abraham and Sarah opened a hotel, which they ran free of charge. They loved sharing not only their wealth but their home as well.
Bringing people into our space can be quite exposing and maybe even embarrassing, but it is one of the greatest forms of kindness and the epitome of sharing our bounty. The founders of monotheism dedicated their lives to this. It must be worth it.
From personal experience, I know that hosting is one of the most rewarding and satisfying mitzvahs we can do. Seeing the smile on people’s faces as they leave your home and hearing their words of gratitude is deeply rewarding. So what are you waiting for? Open your heart and open your home. The blessings are sure to follow.
From an article by Rabbi Levi Avitzon
Shabbat – A Time for Hospitality
A big part of the delight of Shabbat is the enjoyment of three Shabbat meals, mainly the first two—Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch—that are elegantly prepared, preceded by the sipping of ceremonial kiddush wine and the breaking of traditional challah bread, and lingered over with songs, inspiring thoughts and camaraderie. (The third meal, eaten late on Shabbat afternoon, is normally lighter.)
If you are joining as a guest, the first thing for you to know is that guests are considered an integral part of any Shabbat meal. Your hosts are very happy to have you—their meal just would not feel right otherwise! For information about the proper etiquette as a Shabbat guest in an Orthodox Jewish home, visit Chabad.org.
Mind Over Matter
Abraham passed ten tests in his lifetime. But why did G-d need to test him? Doesn’t G-d know what is in a man’s heart?
But when G-d challenges you, the challenge itself lifts you higher, much higher, to a place you could never reach on your own. It reveals entirely hidden capacities, granting you access to powers you never imagined you had.
When G-d throws you a challenge, don’t say, “I cannot pass this test. It’s beyond me.” It may be true that you were never capable. But thanks to this challenge, now you are.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
The Talmud (Shabbat 89b) states that in the Messianic age it is specifically of Yitzchak (Isaac) that we shall say “for you are our father” (Isaich 63:16). Chassidut explains that the name Yitzchak is an expression of laughter and delight: in the Messianic age, the supernal joy and delight caused by our present service of G-d will be revealed. Chassidut explain further that the patriarch Isaac represents the aspect of fear and awe of G-d, and the consequent self-negation before G-d. It is, therefore, specifically Isaac who relates to the future era, for at that time G-dliness will manifest itself in the world, and all creatures will be moved to a sense of self-negation.
Indeed, Isaac’s life reflected certain qualities of the Messianic era. The Zohar (I: 60a) notes: when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son (Vayeira ch. 22), Isaac’s soul departed from his body and was replaced by a soul from the “world to come.” By virtue of this new soul, related to the era of redemption, Isaac’s life was in the mode of the future era of the redemption.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Why Angels Won’t Multi-task
When I was in the first grade, just beginning to study the book of Genesis, I was fascinated by the stories, the personalities and the drama. But nothing captured my imagination more than the angels. There was something so mysterious about them. Disguised as ordinary people, they would show up in the right place at the right time, and solve some problem with their supernatural powers. And yet, I knew that however great the angels, they had a weakness. At the first mention of angels in the Torah, the commentators are quick to point out that the angels could not perform more than one action at a time.
Why did three angels come to visit Abraham as he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, hoping to find people to invite? Because there were three items to be accomplished, and angels do not have the ability to multitask. As Rashi explains: “And behold, three men: One to bring the news [of Isaac’s birth] to Sarah, and one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham, for one angel does not perform two errands.”
As a young child, I found this comforting. Maybe I couldn’t fly like an angel, but at least I could do two things at once, like run and shout at the same time. Now, years later, I ask myself, why is it so important for Rashi to emphasize the angels’ weakness? Why is it so important for every child studying Genesis to know that angels cannot perform two things at once?
Perhaps because it’s not a handicap. Perhaps it’s the secret to the angels’ power. Perhaps Rashi’s comment is a critique of the human condition.
The angel cannot do more than one thing at a time because the angel identifies with the task completely. The angel has no other dimension to his personality other than fulfilling G-d’s mission—no personal name, no personal agenda, no personal ego to get in the way. At that moment, he is nothing but the task. As such, he cannot perform two acts simultaneously, as it’s impossible to be, fully, in two places at once.
A person, on the other hand, even when performing the will of G-d. never loses his own ego. A person always maintains the sense that he has an independent identity, an identity which happens to be engaged in the mission. As such, he can never become one with the mission, and therefore, some aspect of his identity will always be able to engage in something else.
Rashi understood that the child reading the story is no angel. Yet Rashi is teaching us how to be more like an angel. How to be fully engaged in what we are doing, to the point that we forget about everything else. How to help someone else, and, while doing so, lose our own ego. How to speak to our children, carefully look them in the eyes, and listen. Listen as if, at that moment, we have nothing else in our life. Listen as if we have no e-mails, no deadlines, no one to meet, no place to go, no other interests.
He is teaching us to be present—like an angel.
Rabbi Menachem Feldman