By Melissa Berenbaum, October 27, 2018
Shabbat Shalom! This Parsha is rich, substantial and significant. There are many important topics to be discussed. I could talk about faith…. the Akeda, how Abraham seemed willing to sacrifice Isaac, and believed that God had a purpose and reason for tasking him with this unfathomable directive. I could talk about leadership… and demand for justice …. Abraham’s challenge of God’s intent to destroy Soddom and Gemorah.
But I have another subject in which to take a deeper dive. I want to talk about kindness and acting Godly.
The parsha opens with Abraham at home recovering from his circumcision. He is sitting at the entrance of his tent. Commentators note that he was sitting at the entrance to look out for travelers who made need some rest and water.
But the day was a particularly hot one. Rabbi Chama Bar Haninah wrote that God made it hot, too hot to travel, so that Abraham would not have his rest and recovery interrupted by hosting visitors.
God visits Abraham on this hot day, maybe to check in that his recovery is progressing? Or to show him honor for carrying out the commandment of circumcision.
Nevertheless, Abraham spots three strangers, and despite God’s presence and his own ailment, he runs to greet the strangers. Imagine turning your back on God to go greet strangers? You’re in the middle of a conversation with God, some strangers appear and you tell God to hit the pause button? This is rather extraordinary. Rabbi Shraga Simmons in analyzing these verses, writes, “There is an experience even greater than talking to God. To be like God. Human beings are created in the image of God. God is a giver. Thus, giving is our greatest form of spiritual expression.“
Acknowledging the profound moment, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: The idolaters of Abraham’s time worshiped the sun, the stars and the forces of nature as gods. They worshiped power and the powerful. Abraham knew, however, that God is not in nature, but beyond nature. There is only one thing in the universe on which God has set God’s image: the human person, every person, powerful and powerless alike.”
Aaron of Karlin taught that when we turn our attention from God to tend to the needs of people, we do God’s will. Conversely, God is not pleased when we place such a great focus on God that we ignore needy human beings.
You may be questioning why I am focused on this message of the parsha. After all, we at the Library Minyan are very welcoming, we have a greeter each Shabbat, we have many programs to include many people. We arrange Shabbat hospitality. We have already taken this lesson to heart.
But I am going to challenge us to act in an even more Godly way with our fellow congregants. We need to make sure that all our Library Minyaners have access to our service in every physical manifestation. We don’t have a large space, whether it’s the Dorff Nelson or Adelson. We don’t have wide aisles. We have to cram in as many chairs as we possibly can. This makes it extraordinarily challenging when someone with a walker or wheelchair enters our prayer space. We need to make room and offer assistance to those who are less able than we. It means if you are sitting by the door or on an aisle, you need to give up your seat. Think of yourself as Abraham, leaving his own tent to greet the strangers and offer them what they needed on a hot travel day.
We also don’t have great acoustics and we have among us those who are hard of hearing. And we recognize that there are also among us, those who don’t use electricity on Shabbat. But as Abraham turned away from his conversation with God to serve strangers, we must give everyone access to every part of our service and that means the use of a sound system and microphone. I will be working with the Steering Committee in the coming weeks to address the regular use of a microphone and speakers so that all of our congregants can partake of the service, while accommodating those who don’t use electricity. And we will bring it back to the Minyan for implementation.
And there is another way in which we can act like Abraham and embody the qualities of God. In the next verses, Abraham invites the strangers for rest and water. He offers to get them a morsel of bread and then runs to find Sarah and asks her to prepare cake with the choice flour. He then ran to the cattle shed, chose a calf and asked his servant to prepare. And there were other refreshments for the strangers. Similarly, we are blessed with Kiddush and refreshments following our Shabbat service. For some, this may be their main meal of the day, and perhaps the bulk of their provisions for the week. Let us offer assistance to those who need help in sharing in our abundance. Lend them a helping hand when they cut in line. There is plenty to feed us all and for some it may be vital sustenance.
We come to shul each Shabbat to talk to God, to pray. That is mitzvah, of course. But perhaps we need to turn away from that mitzvah sometimes to do another mitzvah and assist a congregant or someone who may be visiting our community.
Abraham turned away from God to see the face of God in the strangers; we must see the face of God in each and every one of our fellow Library Minyaners and know when we accommodate them, we are acting Godly.