Parashah 4: Vayera

 

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...
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Torah: B’resheit (Genesis) 18:1-22:24
Haftarah: M’lekhim Beit (2 Kings) 4:1-37
B’rit Chadashah: Matthew 10:1-42

Hospitality is an under-rated virtue in the West today, but it was one of the utmost importance in the near-eastern world in which the Scriptures were written.  When we read of how Lot offered a hellbent-on-rape crowd the use of his virgin daughters, we gasp in horror, and rightly so.  So would the original readers of Genesis.  But what they understood, which is lost on us today, is that such an act was a horrible necessity in their world.  Lot had offered the two strangers his hospitality.  It was therefore a matter of the highest honor that he defend their lives and well-being at any cost.

Lot’s hospitality towards the two strangers is contrasted with the sin of Sodom.  It was not only the rampant homosexuality that doomed the city, but that they were so given over to a perverse desire of the flesh that they were eager to violate the hospitality due the strangers.  That is, since Lot, one of the rulers of their city (Gen. 19:1, the gate being where the rulers of a city gathered) had extended his hospitality, by extension the whole city should have considered themselves obligated to their guests.

The inhospitality and attempted assault by the people of Sodom is contrasted not only with Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers in the previous parashah, but also with Abimelech’s hospitality to Abraham in chapter 20, and the hospitality of the Shunammite woman in the haftarah reading.  In each case, hospitality is shown to bring blessing, while inhospitality brings a curse.  Abraham’s hospitality to the Holy One and His messengers in Gen. 17 resulted in the Holy One revealing His intention to Abraham, which enabled Abraham to intercede for his nephew.  Lot’s hospitality to the two angels resulted in him being delivered from the city before its destruction.  Abimelech is at first cursed for his unknowing inhospitality in taking Sarah for his own wife by barrenness in his house, but when he demonstrates the ignorance of his sin and restores Sarah to her husband, Abraham prayed and Abimelech’s household was healed (20:18).  As a result of the Shunammite woman’s hospitality to Elisha, her son was even raised from the dead.

In Matthew 10, this same pattern continues, but this time we are given assurances for the guest rather than the host:

As you enter into the household, greet it.  If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you.   Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust from your feet.   Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.  (vv. 12-15)

He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me.   He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.   Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you he will in no way lose his reward.” (vv. 40-42)

We should always be ready and eager to show hospitality to anyone we can.  At Sabbaths and on holy days, we should make sure that there is extra food in case of a guest, and to work hard to bring in a guest to share in our day of joy and peace.  I remember reading a story about a rebbitzen (rabbi’s wife) who invited a guest over for Shabbat dinner and when the guest had agreed, sent her young son home to tell the rabbi.  The son ran home and burst in the house, shouting in joy, “Daddy, Daddy, Mommy found a Sabbath guest for us!”

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it,” Hebrews 13:2 tells us.  Those angels may be heavenly beings or early emissaries, but either way, we should be generous to all, trusting that the Holy One rewards the eager host.

Shalom

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