Thursday, 10 November 2011

A Bowl of Sweets

You’re probably wondering why a bowl of sweets?
Well you’ll find out by the end of this post….
This week in the Torah we encounter Avraham sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was three days after his Brit Milah he was in distress.
"G-d appeared to him in the oaks of Mamre- and he was sitting at the opening of his tent at the heat of the day. He lifts up his eyes and he sees and behold three men were standing above him, and he ran to greet them from the entrance of his tent".
The Torah then describes in detail the actions of Avraham how he involved himself in providing hospitality to these three men. It’s not Rabbinical commentary- it’s the Torah here speaking to us.- just read it yourself- He offers them water, he takes bread, he washes their feet. He slaughters a cow, he prepares the food. He runs to Sarah to tell her to prepare cakes.
And then he stands above them under the tree as they partake of the meal which he had prepared for them.
Notice the immediate difficulty here. We started by saying that Hashem appeared to him as he sat at the entrance of his tent. Yet where does Hashem disappear to in all this?-Instead of continuing the dialogue with God, the narrative completely breaks off and starts speaking about how Avraham  occupies himself with these travellers. Strange, a bit of a Chutzpah dare I say it on the part of Avraham to depart from God in mid sentence. Yet our Rabbi’s didn’t look at it in a negative way at all. On the contrary, they learn a very important ruling from this;
They say the following;
 "Gedolah hachnassat orchim mekabbalat p’nei shechina- the mitzvah of hospitality- welcoming people into our homes with warmth and enthusiasm is so great that it outweighs the receiving of the countenance of Hashem"-because that was exactly what Avraham did.
Here we see Avraham sitting at the entrance of his tent- he’s in pain. God comes to visit him, maybe to hasten his healing, yet Avraham says ..
“hold on a sec- Hashem I’ve got this mitzvah to do- I’ll get back to you”- and it’s only after these wayfarers have gone on their way  that the narrative returns to the dialogue between Hashem and Avraham.
So what do we learn from all of this? Number one we learn about the importance of Hachnassat Orchim to the extent that our Sages say that it is one of the features with which one can delineate whether one is a descendant of Avraham or not, by the fact that you practise hospitality.
Second- we learn that nobody is too important- or high and mighty to fulfil the mitzvah. Sometimes we say we’ll leave it to somebody else to do it- it’s beneath my dignity to start doing all this physical mundane stuff and running around after people- Comes along the Torah and says that if Avraham Avinu can go out of his way to do it with so much trouble, even though he had been just subjected to his brit three days previously- who are we to reject such an important mitzvah.
But third- the mitzvah of Hachnassat orchim elevates the individual. At the outset when the angels appear to Avraham, they were standing above him. But after he has fulfilled the mitzvah- vehu omed aleihem- he stood above them under the tree as they ate.
By performing the mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim we elevate ourselves to the level of the angels.
One of the questions asked of me a number of years ago when I first came to Kenton was;  What attracted you to become a Lubavitcher?
My answer was not the philosophy or deep rooted Chasidiut or fervent prayer. No it was none of these- you know what it was-a bowl of sweets. When I was only twelve years old a Lubavitch family –the Sufrin’s- came to live in Ilford and every Shabbat afternoon I used to go to the Rabbi’s house and he would leave out a bowl of sweets for our consumption whilst he slept. By the time he would wake up- the sweets were all gone- so were our teeth!!
The message; we never know the effects of our hospitality.
Just saying Shabbat Shalom and showing a personal interest can make the world of a difference to a fellow Jew.

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