For the week ending 19 November 2005 / 17 Heshvan 5766

Parshat Vayera

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Three days after performing brit mila on himself, Avraham is visited by G-d. When three angels appear in human form, Avraham rushes to show them hospitality by bringing them into his tent, despite this being the most painful time after the operation. Sarah laughs when she hears from them that she will bear a son next year. G-d reveals to Avraham that He will destroy Sodom, and Avraham pleads for Sodom to be spared. G-d agrees that if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom He will not destroy it. Avraham "bargains" G-d down to ten righteous people. However, not even ten can be found. Lot, his wife and two daughters are rescued just before sulfur and fire rain down on Sodom and her sister cities. Lots wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lots daughters fear that as a result of the destruction there will be no husbands for them. They decide to get their father drunk and through him to perpetuate the human race. From the elder daughter, Moav is born, and from the younger, Ammon. Avraham moves to Gerar where Avimelech abducts Sarah. After G-d appears to Avimelech in a dream, he releases Sarah and appeases Avraham. As promised, a son, Yitzchak, is born to Sarah and Avraham. On the eighth day after the birth, Avraham circumcises him as commanded. Avraham makes a feast the day Yitzchak is weaned. Sarah tells Avraham to banish Hagar and Hagar's son Yishmael because she sees in him signs of degeneracy. Avraham is distressed at the prospect of banishing his son, but G-d tells him to listen to whatever Sarah tells him to do. After nearly dying of thirst in the desert, Yishmael is rescued by an angel and G-d promises that he will be the progenitor of a mighty nation. Avimelech enters into an alliance with Avraham when he sees that G-d is with him. In a tenth and final test, G-d instructs Avraham to take Yitzchak, who is now 37, and to offer him as a sacrifice. Avraham does this, in spite of ostensibly aborting Jewish nationhood and contradicting his life-long preaching against human sacrifice. At the last moment, G-d sends an angel to stop Avraham. Because of Avrahams unquestioning obedience, G-d promises him that even if the Jewish People sin, they will never be completely dominated by their foes. The parsha ends with the genealogy and birth of Rivka.


The Taste of Hospitality

"he (Lot) made a feast for them and baked matzot, and they ate." (19:3)

Once there was a Jewish traveling salesman who found himself in a largely non-Jewish town on Friday afternoon. His business had delayed him way beyond his expectations and there was now no way he could get home for Shabbat. He had heard that there was just one Orthodox family in town where he could spend Shabbat, and as the sun was starting to set, he made his way there.

The owner of the house opened the door to him. "Can I stay here for Shabbat?" asked the traveling salesman. "If you like" replied the host. "The price is $200." "$200!" exclaimed the traveling salesman, "thats more than a first-class hotel!" "Suit yourself." replied the host.

Realizing that he had no option, the salesman reluctantly agreed. In the short time left before Shabbat the host showed the salesman his room and the kitchen and the other facilities for his Shabbat stay.

As soon as the host had left the room, the salesman sat down and thought to himself. "Well, if this is going to cost me $200 Im going to get my moneys worth." And for the whole of the Shabbat he availed himself unstintingly of the houses considerable facilities. He helped himself to the delicious food in the fridge. He had a long luxurious shower before and after Shabbat. He really made himself "at home".

After he had showered and packed, he made his way downstairs and plunked two crisp $100 bills down on the table in front of his host.

"Whats this?" inquired the host. "Thats the money I owe you," replied the salesman. "You dont owe me anything. Do you really think I would take money from a fellow Jew for the mitzvah of hospitality." "But you told me that Shabbat here costs $200."

"I only told you that to be sure that you would make yourself at home."

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were notorious for their lack of hospitality. Not only were the inhabitants of these cities indifferent to guests but they were actively hostile. Hospitality in Sodom and Amora could be a capital offence.

When Lot welcomed the two angels (who looked like humans) into his home, he prepared a good meal for them as he had seen his uncle Avraham do. It was Pesach, so he baked for them matzot. Lot instructed his wife Eeris to put some salt in the food. Eeris was a native of Sodom; on the rare occasions that she cooked for guests, she never put in salt not because she was concerned that her guests might be suffering from hypertension but so the food would be bland and tasteless.

If Sodom represents the nadir of hospitality, then the opposite of that behavior represents the highest hospitality. We see from Eeris behavior that hospitality is not just providing food for our guests. Lets face it; a person can survive without salt. What characterized Eeris inhospitality was the desire that her guests should have absolutely no pleasure from the food. Thus, when we do the mitzvah of bringing guests into our home, we should do everything we can to make sure they enjoy themselves even if it seems that its going to cost them.

  • Based on the Midrash

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