Tuesday, October 15, 2013

You Gave All You Had, Why You Want To Give More? (Robert Hunter & Mickey Hart - "Fire On The Mountain")

One of the experiences that we have had while living in Toronto has been the fact that frequently my children tend to be the “United States Expert” among their friends. Whenever something odd happens in the United States, my kids will generally have to answer for it.  If the President does something, or Congress does something or if the Federal Reserve does something, or if Mylie Cyrus does something; my children will be asked to offer their opinion. Sometimes this happens in formal settings such as a classroom with a teacher present and sometimes it happens informally while they are playing or talking with friends. Recently my children have had to take a crash course on Legislative Procedure and Congressional Party Politics as they have had to explain the United States government shutdown and the impending Debt Ceiling Crisis that could invariably affect the world economy. This can be pretty complex and heady stuff for a fourth grader, a sixth grader and an eighth grader.  I have tried to present a non partisan explanation that is simple enough for my kids to understand and to repeat in a classroom or to their friends without making the United States look ridiculous to Canadians. This by the way is no easy task. During the course of my explanation our sixth grader offered a terrific solution to what appears to be an insurmountable problem in Washington D.C. She very calmly identified the problem. From her perspective, it appears that one side can’t find someone on the other side to talk to, someone who is willing to listen and figure out a compromise. She suggested that the President invites some of the leaders of the other side to have an informal casual dinner where they try to solve the problems instead of blaming each other for why they arrived at the problem. Hachnasat Orchim is a fundamental and one of the most essential values of Jewish Life. We learn from the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat: “To extend hospitality is loftier than to greet the Divine Presence!”

This week’s Parsha is Vayeira. The narrative and adventures of Avraham the Patriarch continue. While healing from his ritual circumcision, he fulfills the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality. He negotiates with God and reduces the number of righteous people that must be found in S’dom and Amorrah in order to prevent its destruction. The narrative of Avraham is interrupted as we read the narrative of Lot, the two Angels (the same two that had visited Avraham at the beginning of the parsha), the destruction of the city, and the impure relationship that results when the survivors think that world has been destroyed. The narrative returns to Avraham as its focus and he and his wife Sarah give birth to a son (Yitzchak), the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael (Avraham’s first born son and his concubine) and the final test of his belief, the Akeidat Yitzchak – the Offering of Isaac.

Avraham’s formidable spiritual character is evident at the very beginning of the Parsha. At the ripe old age of 99, Avraham just circumcised himself at the ripe old age of 99. The Parsha begins with Avraham’s recuperation from surgery. “V’hu Yoshev Petach Ha’Ohel K’Chom HaYom.- He sat in the tent door in the heat of the day” (18:1). Rashi, the medieval northern French commentator, explains why a 99 year old man would be sitting at the opening of his tent (petach ha’ohel) while still recovering from surgery. Lirot Im Yesh Oveir v’Shav v’Yachnisem b’Veito- Avraham sat in his tent’s opening to see if there were passersby, whom he could take into his home.  Other medieval commentators make it abundantly clear that Avraham was as hospitable as possible. For fear that Avraham could be criticized for not inviting his three guests to stay and spend the evening; we are told that this visit took place at mid day. The only appropriate display of hospitality during the middle of the day was to wash the dust of his guests and prepare a feast. So Avraham did. Yet he did so without any sense of ego. Instead he performed this act of kindness in the most selfless manner. Avraham’s name is not mentioned until the 6th verse of the Parshah (Gen18:6). The first five verses only refer to Avraham in a pronoun form. 

What do we learn that Avraham fulfills this mitzvah in a nameless fashion? We learn that the highest level of hospitality requires us to forsake our own ego. Extending hospitality is not for our benefit. Hospitality is a selfless act; not a selfish one. Ironically, engaging in this selfless act leads to our enrichment. We are better off having done it. Hachnasat Orchim allows us to express our humanity, and our sense of concern the other, the guest, the newcomer. Hachnasat Orchim, in a sense, is the foundation for a warm caring community. Also for Hachnasat Orchim to truly be expressed it can only be done selflessly without concern for a "thank you’s", or any possible reward. By expecting nothing in return for fulfillment of a Mitzvah, we learn that we are engaged in the mitzvah for the sake of the mitzvah and to take a closer step towards God.

Rav Yitz

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