Gen. 18:1 – 22:24
Rabbi Gary Pokras
Why did God pick Avraham to be the founding father of Judaism? The tradition sums it up with one word: hospitality. Avraham’s devotion to hospitality, to caring not only for his family, but for the stranger, is one of the personal qualities that set him apart. We get a taste of his hospitality in this week’s parashah, which opens with Avraham sitting in the opening of his tent at the hottest moment of the day. It is only three days since he, a man in his eighties, has circumcised himself. To be clear, three days out would have been the most painful time in his recovery. It is hard to imagine he was able to walk easily. Yet, when he sees three men in the distance, despite his age and pain and the heat of the day, he runs to greet them, bows low before them, brings them to shade to rest, washes their feet and calls them “my lords.”
He then runs back to the tent for Sarah to make fresh bread, and then runs to the herd to slaughter and prepare a choice calf and runs back to the men with a feast to serve them – calling it a morsel.
He has never met them before and has no idea who they are.
According to contemporary American custom, this level of hospitality may seem foreign and even excessive. It may have been unusual in Avraham’s time as well, since the rabbis single out this one practice as the leading character trait that set Avraham apart in the eyes of God. Why would God have put such emphasis on hospitality in choosing Avraham?
Perhaps the answer can be found in another question. What motivation or value would lead Avraham to take hospitality to such a level?
Avraham could not have acted so without a deep love of and respect for people – and not just the people he knew, not just the people who looked like him or spoke like him, but all people. There is a theory in sociology that nothing creates a sense of “us and them” more profoundly than religion. Yet Torah teaches the opposite. If we want to be in a close and loving relationship with God, we must first learn to love each other – and most especially, the stranger. Love thy neighbor is the golden rule for a reason, and Torah shows us the way.