In the Babylonian Talmud it is written,
Rav Yehuda bar Sheila said that Rabbi Asi said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: There are six matters a person enjoys the profits of in this world, and nevertheless the principal exists for him for the World-to-Come, and they are: Hospitality toward guests, and visiting the sick, and consideration during prayer, and rising early to the study hall, and one who raises his sons to engage in Torah study, and one who judges another favorably, giving him the benefit of the doubt.Shabbat 127a
This week’s parasha, Vayera, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24* provides the seedbed for the first two matters, hospitality and visiting the sick.
Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.Genesis 18:1-3
Hospitality is easy to see. Abraham, it would appear, was sitting in the door of his tent looking for travellers upon whom to share or bestow hospitality. The three approaching “men” provided Abraham with such an opportunity. In the process, Abraham went well beyond the dictates to traditional norm.
Visiting the sick, on the other hand, is not so obvious, unless we take into account the explanation of the sages.
Rabbi Hama the son of Hanina, speaking of these visitors coming to Abraham, said: it was the third day after his circumcision and the Holy One, blessed be He, came and enquired after the state of his health.Bava Metzia 86b
Remember that at the end of Genesis 17, at the command of HaShem, Abraham, Ishmael, and all the men in Abraham’s household, whether natural born or bought, were circumcised. Then chapter 18 begins “now”, or some translations say “then” or “and” followed by “the LORD appeared to him…”. The rabbis understand the immediacy of this phrase as connecting the circumcision of chapter 17 to HaShem visiting Abraham to see how he and obviously the rest of his household was doing after the circumcisions had been performed. We know from the episode of Simeon and Levi and the men of Shechem, that the days following adult circumcision are not the most comfortable of times (see Genesis 34:25). If Rabbi Hama’s observation is correct, it reenforces the understanding of the importance of hospitality to strangers. To Abraham, hospitality was more important than his own pain or inconvenience.
Another lesson on hospitality in Vayera is often overlooked, that of Lot toward the two visitors.
Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them,he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, “Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” They said however, “No, but we shall spend the night in the square.” Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.Genesis 19:1-3
Lot, while a herdsman by upbringing and trade, had moved from living in tents to become a city dweller. But the traditional need to extend hospitality to strangers remained etched in his DNA. It is suggested that the same desire to extend hospitality to strangers that placed Abraham in the “door of his tent” prompted Lot to be sitting in the gate of Sodom as evening was approaching. And just like Abraham, Lot prepared a feast for the visitors.
While the Torah places importance on hospitality, what about the Apostolic Writings? Two verses immediately come to mind, though neither specifically mention hospitality. The first is the second great commandment, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:39). Note that in another place, Yeshua affirms that our neighbor is not only defined by proximity, but also, and possibly more importantly, by need (see Luke 10:29-37). The second emphasizes the importance of caring for others, especially for those in need. In Yeshua’s discourse in Matthew on the final judgment, when the nations assemble before him and he separates people as a shepherd separates sheep and goats, the measure used by the Son of Man to determine who would inherit the kingdom is summed up by these words,
“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”Matthew 25:40
But those who were granted entrance were confused. What was it that we did they asked? He told them, that as they gave sustenance to the hungry, as they made welcome the stranger, as they provided the needs of others, as they visited the sick and those in prison, it was as if they were doing it for him. Interestingly it appears that those who did these things, did not consider doing such things as something out of the ordinary. Just as Abraham and Lot sought the opportunity to extend hospitality as a natural thing to do, so do those who will inherit the kingdom.
Extending hospitality, meeting the needs of others, even when it is not so convenient for us, is a true expression of walking out “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2