Avraham and Sara had thoughtfully chosen the perfect spot to locate their tent. Many local shepherds and farmers regularly passed by the main crossroads of the land of C’naan which was the couple’s new home address. They spent much of their days offering passersby a drink or a meal. They hoped that through their generosity they could demonstrate what their faith was all about. With the intense heat of the day, the opening to their tent was raised open, and a barely perceptible breeze caused the doorway to flutter gently.
On this day Avraham was deep in spiritual reflection. He had recently gone from test to test, from one divine challenge to the next, all in the hopes of doing God’s will. And now, in the middle of the day, God had appeared to Avraham. A giant of faith, Avraham must have been focused like a laser on the power of this sacred moment. Then, from a distance, out of the corner of his eye, Avraham saw 3 figures approaching the crossroads. The elderly man suddenly apologized. He took his leave from the God of all time and space; the God whom he had served by leaving his homeland and his family for an unknown foreign destination. He had even circumcised himself at the age of 99 at God’s command. Yet, even in the midst of a direct revelation, Avraham left aside the spiritual and said- I have important work to do. I must welcome in guests.
From this moment in the Torah, our rabbis teach us a great lesson. In the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat), we learn: “Rav Dimi teaches: Hachnasat Orchim– welcoming in guests- takes precedence over learning in the Bet Midrash. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav- Hosting guests is more important than even welcoming the Shechina, the Divine presence.”
This story points to the unique and powerful understanding of spirituality we Jews have always had. Learning and prayer are the roots of our spiritual expression. We can only imagine what it must have felt like to have the connection of Avraham or Moshe in their moments of prayer. But all of our prayers and learning have an even deeper root- our human connections. We are the people of Shabbat dinner tables and sukkot filled with guests. We are the people of multi generation seders and synagogue kiddush tables for eating and kibbitzing. We are the people that believes that the greatest connection to God is our connection to one another.
It has been so deeply tragic that these past months have made our core spiritual exercise unsafe. We cannot come together. We cannot share a meal. Nothing feels less natural for us, the descendants of Avraham and Sara. With masks up, and our tent flaps down, we are separated from one another. During this time, we should redouble our commitment to connection and community. Whether through Zoom or at a safe (preferably outdoor) distance, our souls long for the power of connection. I am grateful to Schechter for having provided a safe environment for our community’s children to gather together at our local crossroads on Stein Circle and at Wells Ave. This beautiful learning community has been a source of normalcy and strength in very difficult time. We are blessed to have a place where the Divine presence still can be found: as our children share lunch together around slightly distanced tables. Our tents are more empty than we are used to. But our hearts are filled with thanks.
Rabbi Ron Fish, Temple Israel of Sharon; Schechter parent