The Kids Are Watching
This week’s Torah
portion, Vayera, begins with
our Patriarch Avraham sitting outdoors, in front of his tent, recovering
from his recent circumcision.
Hashem is visiting with him, thereby teaching and modeling for us
the mitzvah of bikur cholim –
visiting the sick. In Tractate
Sotah 14a, the Talmud teaches us that we are commanded to walk in
Hashem’s ways. Thus, as
Hashem clothed the naked
With Avraham in recovery mode, he nevertheless camps himself outside, hoping to see wayfarers whom he can invite into his abode for something to eat, some reason to articulate an affirmation of thanks and gratitude to the one true Master of the Universe. Along come three men – messengers of Hashem, we are told by our tradition – and Avraham invites them in. But first he brings them water, inviting them to wash the sand and dust off their feet. (Breishit 18:4)
Later, within the same Torah portion, we read that
two of the three Divine messengers resume trekking and reach
Although many customs and lifestyle nuances appear
in the course of the Tanakh (our Bible), this business of inviting visiting strangers to
wash their feet seems striking.
Not only Avraham and
These are the traditions and niceties of a people who became proficient at welcoming wayfarers. The very act of inviting the traveling stranger into one’s home took on the aspect of religious observance, accompanied by ritual.
Thus, we see in the water of foot-washing a hallmark of the house meant to welcome visitors, dining guests, even sleep-overs. And we see that, in our tradition, not only is hachnasat orchim a central mitzvah – another of those acts of kindness from which one eats the fruit in this world while enjoying the principal in the world to come (Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 127a) – but it is one more defining practice of our people, and other Children of Avraham, that sets us (and, in this case, our Arab cousins) apart from much of the world.
Which brings us back to the foot water.
I imagine young Lot in my mind’s eye –
It passes along the family through the generations. Avraham sends Eliezer back to the land where Avraham evolved many of his early values, forbidding the servant from selecting a bride locally from among the coarse Canaanites. Eliezer finds Rivkah, is invited to spend the night, and is welcomed with the foot water. By the time of Joseph, the palace has foot water for the visiting brothers. And, even in the horrific story of the Concubine of Giv’ah, the elderly man who unsuccessfully tries saving the wayfarers from the overnight doom that surely would have befallen them if they had camped outdoors in the town square, signals them with the foot water of hospitality. (Judges )
Nu – so what about your home? Do you host Shabbat sleep-overs? Do you regularly host guests for Shabbat meals? And, if you do, are your invitations geared primarily to your own circle of friends? Or do your children see you inviting wayfarers, strangers visiting the community? Do they see you adding your name to your local synagogue’s Shabbat Home Hospitality list? Is yours a home open to strangers who contact your temple for a Shabbat meal?
Today, the symbols of hospitality more typically
are the bedroom at the end of the hall, the face and bath towels, and an
old blanket with pillow cases that don’t match.
But that’s OK.
Because, if it is part of their childhood, they will continue this
wonderful tradition of hachnasat orchim when they have homes and households.
They are watching you and learning.
Just as you did your parents when you grew up.
Just as Joseph. Just
as Rivkah. Just as