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Sermon: Parshat Vayeirah

11/19/2019 08:34:29 AM


Rabbi Charlie

Shabbat Shalom!

Parshat Vayeira begins with Abraham as a model of hospitality. Even though he’s recovering from a recent surgery, he sits at the entrance of his tent, waiting. He interrupts an appearance from God to offer a little water and bread and shade. Then he gets the whole household moving – making cakes, slaughtering animals, preparing a feast, with Abraham himself serving the guests.

With Abraham as super-host, Jews have tried to live up to his example. On the three festivals, Jews from all over the world would flock to Jerusalem and in one rabbinic text (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 33), they explained that no one ever said that they couldn’t find a place to stay. Everyone opened their homes – even to strangers – so that everyone could celebrate at the Temple together.

And once upon a time we would not have said kiddish – the blessing over the wine – here at shul. It was only done at home. They made the change during a time when people would travel and if there wasn’t enough space in people’s homes, they would stay at the synagogue. So Jewish communities started to do kiddish in the synagogue.

But times have changed. No one needs to stay at a synagogue – if people are travelling, they usually stay at a hotel. Before Passover Seder, we’ll open our doors and say, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” But if someone happened to be walking by at that moment, we wouldn’t expect them to come in and join us. It’s more like we’re going through the motions. And when Judaism places such importance on the value of hospitality, that’s not good enough.

While we may not offer to wash people’s feet – back in the day, that was a thing – we can still do hospitality. Forget about what it might look like – everything doesn’t have to be perfect. But opening our home to friends and family or new acquaintances who are in the process of becoming friends – this is something we can do. Some will do it on holidays or for parties, but we actually have very few people willing to open their homes to anyone who needs a place for Passover Seder.

I understand – hospitality isn’t always comfortable. But the need for hospitality is very great. I had a volunteer chaplain meet with me a few weeks ago to tell me about a hospital program and he told me that 40% of emergency room visits were due to loneliness. People would go to the emergency room to have someone care about them just because they were lonely.

Publications from the New York Times to Fox News to the Economist to Psychology Today to Forbes to most every news outlet has articles about the negative impacts of loneliness and the need for meaningful relationships. So while it may not be comfortable to open our homes, I’ll encourage all of us to think about the ways we can get past that – for Shabbat dinner, for Passover Seder, for Thanksgiving or Chanukah. It’s doable. But in today’s society – it’s also not enough.

We need a sense of hospitality here at CBI. While we do pretty well most of the time, last night one of our board members was just talking about the need to leave behind the cliques and really reach out in a meaningful way to newcomers or people who are on the fringes of our CBI community. Maybe it’s inviting someone out for a cup of coffee or lunch – or accepting a nervous invitation. And this isn’t just for older individuals – most of the articles about loneliness speak to the challenge for millennials. It may not be the most comfortable at first – especially for our introverts, but it’s vital if we want everyone to feel that sense of belonging.

That brings me back to the volunteer chaplain… He was talking about a program that would provide real training so that volunteers could feel comfortable going into a stranger’s home to make sure that they’re doing ok. It made me think about the growing number of CBI members who don’t drive or don’t drive at night who need that Jewish connection. In modern times, hospitality might not only be about welcoming people into your home – sometimes it’s about going to them. It may not always be comfortable – but it might be what’s needed.

For younger or older or anyone in between – we all need a sense of connection. This is why reaching out and offering a real sense of hospitality can help to combat what has been called the “loneliness epidemic.” By living our values, we can make a big impact.

Shabbat Shalom!


On this note – I want to add that currently, CBI does not have a Caring Committee, but I’m really interested in finding people who would like to help. Please let me know if you’re interested.

Thu, July 9 2020 17 Tammuz 5780