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Tuesday, 10 November, 2020 - 10:20 am

Untitled design (14).pngGrowing up in England we had a little red guest book in which our many sleepover guests, could sign their names and leave a note. I remember browsing through it from time to time and remembering the various guests who came through our home and slept over and joined us for a Shabbat.

There was the gentleman from Argentina who worked for the World Bank and was in London for a high profile international meeting, there was the Captain in the Israeli Navy who enthralled us with his experiences, then there were the two backpackers from Uruguay who were travelling around Europe and just having the time of their lives, there were the two officers from the IDF Golani Brigade who came for a week to check out London and get a break from some stress, and then there were the teenagers from other parts of London who wanted to experience a traditional Shabbos, and in later years there were the visitors from Russia who took their first trip out of Russia in the late 1980’s and wanted to visit a Jewish community. This was all on top of our many friends and classmates who would come for a Shabbos and a sleepover.

You see each week, Chabad of London would get requests from international travelers looking for lodgings where they could experience Shabbat, as many of the hotels were not near the Jewish Community. Chabad had a list of families who were happy to host and we were often the lucky recipients of these special and often very interesting visitors. Our Shabbos table was beautified by their presence, and the many long conversations that we had with them enriched our lives with diverse perspectives and different worldviews and cultural perspectives.

Of course besides all the long distance travelers my parents always had a host of different guests that we had throughout the year, some were family friends and some were local people who enjoyed connecting with a family for Shabbos. There was an old man who lived down the road, and there was the young college students who lived in the area and one guest who was blind whom we would escort him to and from our home. This particular guest was a regular part of our table and conversation and I always found it so fascinating how he went about his regular life while dealing with so many challenges.

Our family wasn’t unique, this was the norm in the community that I was raised and this is also the kind of home that we have tried to establish here in Sudbury. Of course in today’s day and age we proceed with a little more caution when guests call from out of town who we don’t know and usually ask for a reference or two. Yet conceptually we have tried to have a home that is open to all and where many people can experience a warm Shabbat experience, a good meal, and a dose of warm hospitality and joy.

There is no doubt that these interactions and experiences enriched our lives and added broader perspectives to our minds. Yet while those might be the gains, in truth that was and is not the primary reason for hosting guests, as the hosting of guests is about making the other person feel comfortable and at home in your home, your own inner space.

Our tradition teaches, that indeed the Mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim, “hosting guests” is of tremendous significance and importance. Yet to a certain degree the act of hosting is only a small part of the Mitzvah, as the attitude, warmth and care shown to the guest is the primary part of the Mitzvah.

Simply providing a room or a meal is a good thing, but conveying warmth, acceptance and inclusion is another and so much more profound and impactful in what it provides to the recipient and in terms of building friendships and relationships.

Abraham, the first Patriarch of the Jewish people was renowned for this specific quality and it is from him that we learn just how important this is. The Torah tells us that Abraham was visited by none other than G-d himself as he is recovering from his circumcision, yet when three guests appear, Abraham tells G-d to hold off for a moment as he has company. Abraham quickly goes to tend to the guests whom he had never met before, and prepares to cook up a storm of the finest foods as he warmly welcomes them and takes care of them.

The Talmud tells us that they appeared to him to be Idol worshippers, something that was contrary to the core beliefs of Abraham and what he was trying to share with the world. Yet that did not stop Abraham from welcoming them into his tent and trying to help them and make them feel welcome.

Not only that, Abraham places G-d “on hold” as he tends to the guests, which the Talmud uses to prove the importance of hosting guests and being welcoming to others. The Talmud explains that in a certain sense we see from here, that hosting guests is even greater than welcoming the Divine presence. Or from another angle, welcoming guests and G-d’s creations into our home and making them feel good is the greatest way of welcoming in the Divine presence into our home.

In 2020, Coronavirus has certainly put a tremendous limit on the Mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim, and physically it is challenging to accomplish right now and protecting the wellbeing of others takes precedence. Yet the powerful lessons embedded in this Mitzvah of welcoming others into our lives, regardless of their background and views on life, is a core Jewish value and one that we should all seek to live with even today.

This is especially true in these uncertain post-election days, when the political climate is still tense and people are feeling and expressing their diverse views with such passion. Abraham and Sarah’s open and welcoming tent, and the reminder of being open to others and making them feel welcome and included in our lives even when they have different views and politics, is a message that is as relevant today as it was back then.

Indeed while there are many ways to make the world a better place, working on these attitudes of warmth and inclusion even to others who don’t share our views, will change the world not just as a passing moment, but as enduring positive change and betterment of how humanity appreciate and work together.

Good Shabbos & Shabbat Shalom to all!


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