I was honored with offering a dvar Torah at shul Saturday morning.
Here is the text as written:
Earlier in her dvar Torah, Aliza mentioned the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim –welcoming guests--performed by Avraham and Sarah in this week's parashah. The first eight verses of Chapter 18 describe how they welcomed three guests. This is seen as the paradigm of hachnasat orchim.
The first few verses contain Avraham’s extension of hospitality. Avraham could have simply said: “My lords, please, stop to rest and refresh your selves.” Instead, the Torah says: “As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, "My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on—seeing that you have come your servant's way."
In the next verses, we learn how Avraham involves the household in preparing bread, meat, and other refreshments for the guests. Instead of just telling us this information, the Torah specifies what Avraham asked Sarah to bake, how he selected a calf and then how Avraham and a servant prepared the rest of the food.
Nechama Leibowitz taught that the Torah does not normally provide details of everyday incidents in a particular narrative. Therefore, when the Torah offers us such detail, the added information is instructional and not just to enhance the narrative. We learn two types of details about the mitzvah of welcoming guests. The first type concerns the offer of hospitality and the actions involved. These demonstrate taking care of the physical and emotional needs of the travelers by breaking down the offer and actions into many parts: stopping to rest, bathing feet, reclining, eating bread to refresh themselves, and the preparation of food.
The second type of details concern the way in which the household of Avraham and Sarah performed these actions. One example highlights their eagerness to care for others. The verses containing the offer of hospitality and food preparation include five forms of the words “hasten” or “run”. Their actions are the paradigm of hachnasat orchim not just because they teach us the particular actions involved but because of the way in which they were approached.
Aliza, you are no stranger to hachnasat orchim. Your house is always filled with countless family, friends, USYers, and so many others that it would be hard to keep track without a guestbook. You are not a passive observer to welcoming guest, but you help perform the many types of actions involved. When we show up, you often imitate Avraham and run to help us with our bags, take your cousins out of the way, and get us situated. Although I am not there to see you welcome others, I imagine you do it in the same way.
The three guests are understood to be angels, but this is not explicit in the text which describes them as men. This raises a question about the motivations for parts of Avraham’s actions: does he know that they are angels or especially important people or does he treat everyone that way? Commentators differ in their view of some of the particular actions Avraham engages in when welcoming the guests. Abravanel believes that Avraham knew they were not ordinary people since the text describes them far away and then immediately in front of him. He perceived their special status and therefore went to them rather than calling to them from afar. The Sifre teaches that Avraham acted no differently than normal since he did not learn about the special nature of the guests until after he welcomed them.
I found the Sifre’s approach that Avraham treats everybody the same to be more convincing then Abravanel’s view that he treated the guests in a special manner. I even asked Aliza about it yesterday afternoon and she confirmed that all people should be treated equally in general but appropriate to their individual needs. At first I was troubled by going against Abravanel at a family simchah since he is one of Aliza’s ancestors. Luckily, Aliza in her dvar torah came to Abravanel’s rescue and reconciled the two approaches. Aliza taught us to pay attention to the miracles around us. Looking at the world through Aliza-colored lenses and seeing everyone as a potential miracle allows us to perform hachnasat orchim in the same way as Avraham and Sarah do. Every guest, indeed everyone we meet, is as special as the angels visiting Avraham and Sarah’s tent and must be treated accsordingly. Aliza, I hope you continue to view the world through your miracle glasses and treat everyone as a treasured guest.
Dodo (what our nieces and nephews call Deborah) and your cousins, join me in wishing you and your family mazal tov.