Shabbat Vayera 5773

We simply can’t get through difficult times, like these wrought by the winds of Sandy, without the kindness of others. So many of us in this community, which was far luckier than others, have opened our doors to those left without heat, power, or more. We have tried to look in on those who might need a bit more help weathering the storm.

It’s a good week to emphasize the power of mitzvot such as Hakhnasat Orhim–hospitality–and Bikkur Holim–visiting the sick. Not only are these key components of our communal response to disaster, but they are featured at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayera. Avraham’s action is the Biblical model for hospitality, tending as he does to the three Divine passersby. The rabbis read Bikkur Holim into the narrative as well. “God appeared to him” (Genesis 18:1) is understood to be a sick call to Avraham, who we last saw circumcising himself at the age of 99!

So if Avraham is recuperating from a sensitive surgical procedure, why does God send guests three days later? Rashi quotes the Talmudic tradition that the Torah’s weather report–“he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot”–to explain God’s plan. “The Holy One brought the sun out of its sheath so that [Avraham] would not be bothered by travelers; but when God perceived that he was upset that no guests were coming, God brought the angels in the form of men.”

What do you think of Avraham as the midrash above describes him? Of course, we celebrate his enthusiasm for the mitzvah of Hakhnasat Orhim, but isn’t there something a bit unnerving about his pouting that he can’t do the mitzvah so soon after himself being in need of kindness? Why can’t Avraham be a care-receiver for a few days instead of a caregiver?

In other words, what if one’s acts of kindness border on the unhealthy? Is such a thing possible? We’ll explore this further on Shabbat morning when we look at a Talmudic story about how not to make a sick visit.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise