Abraham, Hospitality, and the Shabbat

October 26, 2018

At the very beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Abraham greets three mysterious strangers whom tradition assumes are, in fact, angels. Knowing that Abraham’s wife Sarah is “barren,” they predict that Sarah would soon give birth. At age 91! Although many concentrate on the miracle of Sarah’s actually conceiving, the rabbis found something essential in the story which for them represented a central value in Jewish life: Hospitality, Kindness, and Openness to Strangers.  Abraham insists on hosting them. Not only that, but he rushes to provide hospitality:

“Abraham hurried into the tent unto Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hurried to dress it. And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.”

[An aside . . . milk and meat? Our patriarch Abraham served them milk and meat together, which is decidedly unkosher. There are two explanations: 1) Abraham lived before the giving of the Torah to Moses, so there was no rule yet about not mixing milk and meat. 2) The patriarchs all followed the Torah, even though it wasn’t given to the Jewish people yet. Clearly Abraham served the milk as an appetizer and later served the meat, therefore not really mixing milk and meat.]

Hospitality, or Hachnasat Orchim in Hebrew, is such an important value, that the our tradition considers it to be a hallmark of the values of Abraham, our Father, the First Hebrew. So important was hospitality to Abraham, says the Midrash, that Abraham habitually sat in his tent with all four tent flaps open so he could see in all four directions. That way, he could see if anyone . . . friend or stranger . . . was approaching, and he would rush to invite them to his tent, just as he did in the above verse.

And just as Abraham valued hospitality, so do we. And nowhere does that become more clear than on Shabbat. The epitome of hospitality is to invite people to your home for a Shabbat meal. Traditional families habitually invite guess EVERY SHABBAT, or at least on most Shabbats. Clearly, having people over for Shabbat dinner not only fulfills a mitzvah, but it’s fun. Try it!

Shabbat Shalom.