In this week’s Parasha Vayera, the Torah tells how Avraham did not hesitate to let strangers into his home, to feed them and to honor them with a generous hand. Hospitality became a symbol of Avraham’s legacy among his decedents, the Jewish people, and Arab people as well.
There is a story about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchov (1740-1806) who went on one of his journeys to the house of one of the rich Jews of the city of Lviv in Ukraine and asked to spend the night at his house. The rich man, who didn’t know Rabbi Levy Yitzchak, refused, and said: “Do you think there are homeless people at my home? Go to the shelter where people like you live and stay there.”
– “I am not homeless, and I will not bother you,” said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, “All what I ask is that you give me a place in one of your rooms.”
-“If you are not homeless, so go to the house of the Shamash, he will receive you,” said the man. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak went to the house of the Shamash and was received with a beautiful welcome. A short time later a voice was heard among the people of the city: “The Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditschov is here!”
Many people gathered around the house to see the Rabbi and to receive his blessing. Among them was that rich fellow. When he stood in front of the rabbi he said: “Rabbi, please forgive me and come to my house. It is well known that my house it’s open always for all the great rabbis who come to our city.”
Rabbi Levi answered and said: “Do you know, gentlemen, what is the difference between Abraham and Lot, his nephew? When the angels came to visit Abraham, he greeted them and honored them with delicious food he had prepared for them. But also, when the angels came to see Lot, it said: “And he made a feast and baked Matzot for them”
So, what is the difference between Abraham and Lot? Why do we admire the kindness that Abraham did and not the kindness that Lot did? The answer is: when the angels came to Sodom, Lot’s city, it was already known that the guests were angels, as it is written ‘And the two angels came to Sodom’. But when Abraham brought them into his house, he saw nothing but ‘people’ standing before him, ignoring totally that they were angels because they looked like Bedouins.
Abraham’s glory is that he took guests into his house even though they looked like simple people who he thought were just simple travelers, while Lot received angels, knowing they were angels, and everyone would be happy to have angels into his house.
This true story relates to our parasha, teaching us and anchoring us to continue our beautiful Jewish Sephardic customs to express our inner warmth of hospitality for every guest who come to visit, either in our house or in our temple. With a simple smile and a genuine welcome we can change the life of our fellows for good.
Rabbi Refael Cohen