As I headed for the ballroom where the big plenary session was about to begin, I saw a man in the hallway outside the doors. Because I had heard the upcoming speaker, Ron Wolfson, before, I knew who it was standing there. It was Ron Wolfson. Before speaking in front of a convention of 1200 attendees, he went to speak to everyone who was walking in. “Hi, welcome! I’m Ron.”
Ron teaches at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, and he is one of the most astute observers of American religion. His most recent books, The Spirituality of Welcoming and Relational Judaism, are beginning to inspire changes in the Jewish community’s thoughts about what makes for a successful community. But if he is indeed the father of this relational approach, he’s just walking in the footsteps of another of our people’s fathers.
Avraham Avinu, Father Abraham, is legendary for his hospitality. The way he, in partnership with Sarah, welcomes the three visitors to his home is the prototype for the mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim, welcoming guests. Sure enough, God blesses Avraham and Sarah with the news that they will produce a child, even at their advanced ages. But that’s not all Avraham does, nor is it the only blessing he receives from God.
Genesis 18:16 reads: “The men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom, Abraham walking with them to see them off.” And the very next verse says, “Now the LORD had said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…?” In noting the juxtaposition of these verses, Rabbi Bahye ben Asher (14th century Spain) said: “God said this to Avraham, for on the merit of his accompanying [the men], the Divine Speech came to him.”
Rabbenu Bahye is making a strong assertion–that our entitlement to hearing God’s voice is the direct result of the way we treat our guests. This is more than welcoming someone warmly, this is helping them take leave of us warmly. In fact, the Talmud even tells us how far we have to go in ushering our guests away.
We’ll discuss this further on Shabbat morning, looking at what the Talmud teaches, and how we can apply it in today’s Jewish communities.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise