Parashat Vayeira

Friday, November 3, 2017 / 14 Heshvan, 5778
Parashat Vayeira Genesis 18:1-22:24
Dear Friends,
This week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, juxtaposes two very different responses to strangers.
In the beginning of the portion, Abraham and Sarah opened their tent in a place called Mamre to three weary strangers who were travelling through the desert. They fed them, provided them a place to rest overnight, and took care of their needs.   Midrash teaches that Abraham and Sarah’s tent was open on all sides so that they could fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim-welcoming strangers into their home.  Abraham and Sarah remain the model for hospitality.
Later in the narrative, these same three men made their way to the wicked cities of Sodom and Gemorrah, which was known for their ill treatment of strangers.
The Talmud teaches that, “because of their wealth, the people of Sodom became haughty. They said to one another ‘ Since gold and silver come from our land, why should we allow strangers to visit our borders, eat our food, use our resources, and share what is ours? They will only take what we have, and there will be less for us. Let’s keep them from entering, and let’s drive out those who get in as soon as possible – especially the poor or the sick ones.”
When the same three men who were treated so warmly by Abraham and Sarah arrive at Sodom, they are almost killed by their residents.
Welcoming the stranger is a core Jewish value, not only for our synagogues, but as a matter of public policy.  This Shabbat, more than 100 Reform synagogues nationwide are partnering with the Religious Action Center to bring attention and awareness to the plight of 800,000 undocumented young people, known as Dreamers, who were brought to this country by their parents when they were children and who had been protected in recent years by an Obama administration executive order called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which President Trump rescinded in September throwing their status into limbo.  President Trump has placed responsibility on Congress to pass what is known as the bi-partisan DREAM Act of 2017 to provide protections for these young people so that they can continue to learn, work and contribute to our country.
I will speak more about the Jewish values behind immigration reform next Shabbat, however, this Monday, November 6 you can be one of at least 1000 Reform Jews nationwide to call our elected representatives urging them to pass the bi-partisan DREAM Act of 2017.  Link here to learn more about the legislation and why our reform movement believes that passing the 2017 DREAM Act is a priority.
As we consider the two episodes of the three strangers who first appeared at Abraham and Sarah’s tent at Mamre and then later in Sodom and Gemorrah we must ask ourselves this question: What kind of place do we aspire to be?  Do we want to be Mamre, where we model the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, ready to welcome weary visitors into our midst? Or do we prefer Sodom where outsiders were always at risk, where strangers, the poor and vulnerable were always the most endangered?  The Jewish answer should be clear; Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests is among our most treasured values, even though in our day many powerful forces in our nation seem to prefer Sodom to Mamre.
If the issue of immigrant rights and protection speak to you, then please review this source kit to learn more and please call your elected representatives on Monday and make your voice heard.  Even those who share our desire to pass the DREAM Act need to be called.
Next Shabbat I will speak more about the Jewish values behind this issue of public policy as we continue to try to make our nation more like Mamre.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Charles Briskin