Friday, November 6, 2020 /19 Heshvan, 5781
Parashat Vayeira Genesis 18.1–22:24
At a time of national strife, rising tensions, and political polarity, our Torah portion reminds us of one of the most central teachings in our tradition – the importance of treating one another with dignity and respect.
Parashat Vayeira begins with Abraham sitting in his tent at the hottest point of the day. He looked up to see three strangers in the distance. Abraham did not know who they were or why they appeared; all he knew was that they were not Israelites and likely did not share many of his beliefs and values. Did these men know how he had once shattered his father’s idols and mocked idolatry? Did they wish to harm him? Abraham did not allow these thoughts to give him even a moment of pause. Upon seeing the men, he jumped up, bowed down to them, and offered them food, water, and a place to rest.
Like Abraham, Lot welcomed in guests when they appeared in his town. In sharp contrast to their hospitality, Sodom’s townspeople responded to the strangers’ presence with contempt. When they heard that Lot was hosting strangers, “the people of Sodom, young and old alike, all the people, from every side, gathered around the house and called to Lot saying, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out so we can have them.” (Genesis 19:4-5) While the Torah isn’t clear on precisely what they wished to do to the men, it likely would have included violence, rape, and perhaps even murder.
Unfortunately, for the Sodomites, the guests who came to Lot’s house were no ordinary human beings. They were divine emissaries there to determine just how corrupt Sodom truly was. They discovered a society ready to assault anyone they perceived to be different. The Talmud tells a story about a woman who gave bread to a poor man. Sodomites dabbed her with honey, placed her on the parapet of the wall, and allowed the bees to consume her. Not only did they seek to hurt those who were different, but they hurt anyone who treated them with kindness. The townspeople’s actions would ultimately lead to the fall of Sodom, and its sister city, Gemorrah.
The three strangers who appeared to Abraham were divine emissaries as well. They rewarded him for his hospitality and generosity with the promise that he would finally have a child with his wife, Sarah, and that he would become the father of a great nation.
Abraham would lead by upholding the Jewish value of Kavod HaBriot, respect for all human beings. Our morality and humanity are defined by how we treat every person – especially those who are different from ourselves.
We do not have control over our election’s outcome or the contentious rhetoric of our country’s leaders, but we do have control over how we treat our fellow human beings. May Abraham’s example inspire us to de-escalate tensions whenever possible, and offer respect to every human being we encounter, no matter the ideological or political differences between us.
Rabbi Cassi Kail