Rav Shlomo, Abraham, and the Pagans

The late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was one of the most influential rabbis of the last one hundred years. Through his singing, storytelling, and charismatic personality he had a knack for reaching the most wayward Jews and bringing them back to their roots. But he didn’t limit his outreach to just the Jewish people, he wanted to teach the world about the love of the God of Israel and help them live life to the fullest with the teachings of Torah.

This Wednesday night, October 28, begins Cheshvan 16, which is the anniversary (yahrzeit) of his untimely death in 1994. In honor of his death I would like to share a teaching he did on the upcoming Torah portion Vayera. This Torah portion opens up with Abraham greeting three seeming strangers into his tent and offering them hospitality:

And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” (Genesis 18:1-5)

We must remember that Abraham does not know that these men are angels and has no idea that they are coming to announce the birth of a son. All this was just a few days after he had fulfilled the mitzvah of circumcision and most certainly he was in pain. Rav Shlomo reminds us that, in all likelihood, from Abraham’s perspective these men were pagan idolaters, yet Abraham welcomes them into his tent and takes time to meet their needs despite his own discomfort. Rav Shlomo comments:

Abraham was the first Jew, the first messenger of God on earth. The first thing Abraham did was to open his house; in fact he took away the doors. Everybody was welcome. Abraham didn’t preach to the sinners, “Listen you dirty pagans, you are going to hell.” He just took them in and told them, “This is my house and this is your house too.” Then people would stay there for a long time and when they left they would thank Abraham. He would say, “Don’t thank me, thank G-d.” Then the people would ask, “Who is this G-d you are talking about? My god doesn’t have a man like you.” Then Abraham would tell them, “There is only One G-d” …

When am I absolutely closest to G-d? G-d can reveal Himself to me in His entirety, but how much am I G-d? I am most G-d when I welcome a stranger. Why? What is G-d doing? G-d is making a place for the world. Every little creature has a place. Making places is the biggest thing. If I see a sweet little stranger and he feels so low, he has no place in the world, and I tell him, “Come to my house; I’ll make a place for you”; this is reaching to the depths of the world. It is so simple, it doesn’t cost anything, and we don’t do it. [1]

What a powerful lesson we learn from Abraham! When are we closest to HaShem? When are we the most God-like? When we are taking care of the needs of strangers and showing them hospitality no matter who they are. It is then that we are showing the love of God and spreading his light to the world. Our Master Yeshua teaches us the exact same message:

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:46-47)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Yeshua said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

As the Master tells us, we must read the story of Abraham and go and do likewise. Shabbat shalom and may Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s memory serve as a blessing.

  1. Read his full teaching on Vayera here: http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/vayeraii/

Source: First Fruits of Zion