The Hospitality of Abraham

As I was studying the commentary on this week’s Torah reading of Parashat Sh’lach, one paragraph really stood out for me. I’ll quote it here:

The very nature of Torah Covenant Judaism, indeed, our hasidic faith, calls for tolerance. But, unfortunately, we are misunderstood – probably because of our failure to strictly adhere to our own Torah. And, furthermore, some of us carry the spirit of tolerance to a misconstrued and extreme conception. We have become “tolerant” in matters of our very faith, and tolerate transgression because we feel we have no moral right to interfere in the philosophy (if we may so term it) of our co-religionists. And this naturally leads to individual, incorrect, and untenable interpretations of our Torah – and in this – even our inconsistencies are inconsistent!” (Source)

When I hear the word “tolerance” I also think of the word “hospitality” and I think about our father Abraham. Abraham, the venerable character found in the Hebrew Bible, is often cited for his exemplary spirit of hospitality. It’s that very attitude of kindness and charity that all of us should want to follow to the best of our abilities.

We can read the inspiring account concerning Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18:1-8.

YHWH appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and saw that three men stood opposite him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please don’t go away from your servant. Now let a little water be fetched, wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. I will get a morsel of bread so you can refresh your heart. After that you may go your way, now that you have come to your servant.” They said, “Very well, do as you have said.” Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly prepare three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and fetched a tender and good calf, and gave it to the servant. He hurried to dress it. He took butter, milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them. He stood by them under the tree, and they ate.

From these verses within the Tanakh we can see that Abraham, his wife Sarah and his servant wasted no time at all in preparing a fine meal for Abraham’s visitors. The Hebrew Bible tells us that Abraham chose a “tender and good calf,” no doubt one of the best he had from among the herd.

In modern times, Sarah’s “three measures of fine meal” would equal to around 20 or more quarts of flour. If you’ve ever used flour in the kitchen to bake anything, you know that 20 quarts is not some small amount. This made a lot of bread. A quart holds four cups! You might be able to get 20 cups from a five pound bag of flour. To make a regular sized loaf of bread (like what you might purchase from the market, sliced), it takes 3 or 3 1/2 cups. Eighty cups of flour (20 quarts or 3 measures of “fine meal”) is a lot of flour, so Sarah (and probably her servants) were baking just under 30 “loaves” of bread.

With all that bread and an entire calf, we can assume Abraham had more than just the three guests he was serving. There is no way three individuals could eat that much bread alone.

We have a beautiful comment on this passage for us in the Stone Chumash:

God’s visit to Abraham was to demonstrate that [Abraham] had become a “chariot of the Divine Presence” (see Bereishis Rabbah 82:6), meaning that even his physical being had become pure enough to be a resting place for God, as it were.

…Abraham longed for guests, because a tzaddik is never content with past accomplishments; he seeks to serve God at all times. In Abraham’s case, his manner of service was through being kind to people, thereby drawing them into his orbit so that he could inspire them with his example to learn more about and serve God. In response, God sent him three angels in the guise of people, and Abraham ran to invite them in and serve them personally, despite his age and illness. (Source: The Chumash, Stone Edition, 2000, Mesorah Publications, Ltd, Brooklyn, NY)

Like our own Tzadik, Abraham was a very blessed and holy man chosen by God to serve as His own vessel in manifesting His love for humankind. The Tzadik wishes to serve God in every capacity possible within the shell of the human body, regardless of how ill or advanced in age. The exemplary pattern of love and kindness for all souls, demonstrated daily by the tzadikim, should be something that inspires us to do what we can as well, and to always strive to do more.

While none of us claim to be a tzadik, we can follow the example of our holy men and those who died fighting for their faith. Does the hospitality of Abraham extend to that of our own households? Are we as tolerant as we really like to claim to be? Hospitality does not always mean providing a cold cup of water to a thirsty person, or giving money to the homeless or baking 30 loaves of bread. It also means being there for a family member, a friend or a neighbor who is hurting because of certain situations in their life. It means providing comfort for the other person in need.

If we are not strictly following the Torah and making our faith part of our lifestyle (our faith should be our life) then when we say that we are hospitable or tolerant, it is probably only lip service or only a semblance of what hospitality and tolerance should actually be. In every way, our hospitality should be genuine, from the deep recesses of our hearts, out of a desire to serve God by helping others.

Our hospitality is linked to our individual tolerance. But how far should it go? Our sages have told us that being tolerant does not mean accepting the false ideas of others, or condoning anti-Semitic activities or other forms of evil in this world. We are tolerant toward all people, regardless of what they believe, teach or practice, as long as those things do not harm other people. If we see such things causing others unnecessary pain and grief, then it is our responsibility to take a stand and try to correct the matter. While we tolerate the beliefs of others, even when we know that what they believe is wrong, we never condemn those people, but we do feel it is our responsibility to expose wrong doing and false teachings, especially if those teachings are against Torah and the plain words of our Scriptures.

We have various examples of hospitality in the Holy Scriptures. Let us (all of us) always have the spirit of our father Abraham in our service to God, raising up HaShem to the world and being hospitable to all who come across our path.

With love,
Miriam Hadida

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