Parshas VaYeira:

An elderly man is sitting in the hot sun by the door to his home. He gazes into the desert wilderness to see if anyone is passing by. Although suffering from a recent operation, he is compelled to follow his usual routine. For his home is a place of refuge and peace for travelers, wayfarers, and lost souls. Together with his wife, they create an oasis of compassion in a harsh world.

This is Abraham and Sarah, progenitors of the Jewish people. Through their lives and actions, we learn that receiving guests is a sacred act. Opening our homes expresses a great love for humanity. This love for humanity is sacred, akin to receiving the Divine Presence.

I have a friend who with his wife regularly hosts thirty to forty people for Shabbos meals. He started just hosting some friends once a month. They asked if they could bring some friends. Soon, he had to go out and buy dozens of folding chairs and folding tables. He moves the furniture out of his living room in order to accommodate all his guests. He buys food, seltzer, plates and cups by the case. Each meal people come who he has never met before. Very often they are new to the area with no place to go for Shabbos meals. But in his home, they feel like the most special guests.

Sometimes we think that to build a more compassionate world, we need an overhaul of government, politicians and cultural values. We see corruption, greed, and elitism. We see terrible inhumanity and suffering in our own communities. We see people who are lost, financially, spiritually, and emotionally.

Abraham and Sarah saw such a world that lacked compassion and Godliness. The most wealthy cities of their time, prohibited visitors, abused the poor and homeless. So they set about emulating the compassion that G-d showed them, by opening their home, their lives, and helping who ever they could. They built a world of compassion in their own home. They built a world of kindness and hope in a tent in the desert.

Imagine what we can do with our lives and modern homes? Imagine if we all open our doors, even just a bit more. Imagine if we open our hearts up just a bit more. Imagine if we open our wallets just a little bit more. Wow! Can you imagine the world of compassion that we can build? Each home can become a world of compassion, a sacred space, dedicated to a sacred mission.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah

13 Comments

  • I have been hosting Shabbat dinners about once a month, with a few friends in midtown Manhattan. I can seat 8-10. I also hosted a Rosh Hashanah and seudah hamafseket before Yom kippur. I would invite more but most Jews I know live too far away and are shomer shabbas, also my kitchen isn’t kosher, but I don’t serve meat.

    There needs to be more of this. Even people in tiny apartments can host 2-3.

  • You go girl.

    In case you want to have your kitchen koshered for free, the numer is 1-888-Go Kosher. The whole kosher thing is nowhere near as hard as some think. Even staying vegatarian, some guests will prefer that you have a formally defined kosher kitchen. It is actually very interesting religiously.

    I was going to ask Rabbi Yo how it would be if single people host Shabbat dinners, not just couples.

    Yehudit seems to be one. What does the Rabbi think?

    A mezuzah on the door may bring you new “clients”.

    I am totally impressed.

  • Personally I am all for it. I think that singles get tired of always being guests, and that they should play house, and host mixed meals, and let Jewish guys and gals meet. Pot lucks are great too.

  • “Shabbat At YOUR House” – a talk, web page or pamphlet: why, how, what would come in handy, such as a folding table and some stacking chairs from Staples, a warming tray and a crock pot. What guests should bring, arriving before candle lighting. What to be careful of.

    An instruction manual and a pep talk!

    Form a core committee of single frum types, any one of whom would be quite willing to come to YOUR house, and kind of lead things! Bearing wine. What fun!

    Have siddur will travel!

  • Yes, a very moving topic. There is no more authentically and essentially Jewish cultural value than building a more compassionate world – of addressing the “inhumanity and suffering in our own communities,” and catering to the “financially, spiritually, and emotionally” bereft. It is a value I’ve always known as “Tikkun Olam,” and while its emphasis on the welfare of others and lack of any evident self-interest have made it considerably less fashionable among certain circles in recent years, it nonetheless remains for me and many other Jews I know a source of unequalled pride in what it means to be Jewish.

    There is a very moving post in Jewschool about a Dorot Fellow in Israel working for the Domani Center, an organization doing advocacy work on behalf of Israeli members of the ethnic Gypsy community. Not a cause that many give a shit about, but an organization devoted to meeting the needs of a group of human beings among the most economically impoverished and socially deprived citizens of the State of Israel.

    Organizing Shabbat dinners on the Upper West Side is a very commendable example of . . . . hospitality. Kind of like good grooming and punctuality. All in all, a very lovely endeavor to be involved in. Very lovely. But one that has about as much to do with building a more compassionate world as maintaining clean toenails.

  • David Smith, with respect, you have missed the point.

    Politics six days a week, Shabbat on seventh day.

    Rabbi Yo will clarify.

    Compassion has a long, deep tap root in religion, and our religion has a long, deep tap root into Shabbat observance.

    Ergo, no Shabbat, no compassion. Eventually. Really. If you don’t honor Shabbat somehow, somewhere a puppy will die. Eventually. Really.

  • Jewish Mother,

    No, I don’t believe I’ve missed the point in the slightest. The Rabbi is welcome to contribute anything he feels fit, but I have no reason to imagine he’ll clarify anything that wasn’t made abundantly clear to me in my years of Day School and subsequent decades as a practicing Jew.

    Our religion imposes obligations pertaining to the observance of Shabbat and the demonstration of compassion for others. Both are requirements. The fullfilment of one has nothing whatever to do with satisfaction the other. On the other hand, our religion also incoprporates the recognition that mitzvot sometimes conflict. That was the case when my mother was in the hospital with lung cancer 30 years ago. In accordance with Jewish law and culture and tradition, her extremely Orthodox surgeon came to the hospital to make his rounds on Shabbat, just like every other day. That’s because Shabbat takes a back seat to and occupies a lower order of importance than protecting the life of others.

  • David-

    while I agree with you generally, that hospitality is less important than issues of hunger, the environment, equality, etc, the two CAN coexist. It is important for people to feel like they can host shabbat dinners, it is also important that they advocate on behalf of the Roma in Israel.

    Just because my problems are not global in scope doesn’t mean that they aren’t problems, or that I should be belittled for caring about them. Because some children in Africa are AIDS orphans I shouldn’t be stressed about my schoolwork? Etc, etc.

    Also I fundamentally disagree with you that this hospitality “has about as much to do with building a more compassionate world as maintaining clean toenails.” A world in which people care for eachother’s feelings? A world where people make an effort to include one another? I think that it is a matter of degrees, someone who starts by inviting strangers to their shabbes table may then move on to politically “invite strangers” through advocacy to participate.

  • I am only BT but I did know about the requirement of “violating” Shabbat to protect life and dignity. I do not see Judaism as a collection of rules.

    The satisfaction of every requirement in Judaism has to do with, and is somehow connected to, everything else in Judaism.

    You knew that.

    You knew that the dinner table becomes the altar of the Temple.

    We must not be shy. We must eat and sing no matter who is around because it is NOT a social occasion – it is about something outside of the specific folks who happen to be present, it is about Shabbat, which is eternal, and the only ritual in the Ten Commandments.

  • It is our most elemental connection to G-d. No connection to G-d, no compassion. Without a religious connetion, compassion beyond those in a position to reciprocate (and the Roma aren’t going to do anything for you, they can’t) is irrational.

    Right. Beyond the rational, above it. One day a week. See the connection?

  • Annie,

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, and I suspect that we share far more than not about the appropriate way to go about ordering and meeting our various ethical obligations. I especially concur with what you’re said about the relative importance of our small, purely personal problems in comparison with the broader global issues of AIDS, world hunger and the like. They are absolutely not in conflict, and it seems to me that every caring, sentient human being needs to strike some kind of a balance between the two. What I oppose very strongly, though, is the failure to distinguish between these two types of obligations, i.e., the assertion that taking care of one’s own needs is the same thing as meeting one’s obligations to others.

    I think this issue parallels recent discussions about the conflict, or at least the contrast, between “particularist” and “universalist” perspectives. To a large extent, I think the ostensible incompatibility of these outlooks is largely illusory. There are those, for example, who would argue that it’s wrong to work on behalf of such causes as, say, abandoned pets, when there are so many abandoned children in the world. The simple truth is that love and compassion are not finite qualities, and their expenditure doesn’t occur as part of some zero-sum game.

    In short, the generosity demonstrated by extending an invitation to Shabbos dinner to someone who might have nowhere else to go is anything but trivial. Indeed, it strikes me as a profoundly commendable and worthwhile gesture, and I remain truly grateful for the number of such invitations as I’ve received from virtual strangers over the course of my life, even though I’m not shomer Shabbos myself. Again, the only thing I object to is the notion that such efforts are a substitute for the Jewish obligation to build a more compassionate world. More specifically, I have found myself deeply angered in recent years by what has seemed to me to be the suddenly fashionable tendency to dismiss tikkun olam as a superficial and inauthentically Jewish concern, of interest to those whose Judaism is more posture than passion Such sneering assessments notwithstanding, I remain convinced that real Judaism remains about more than counting dust mites on a head of cabbage.

  • You are so right. Six days tikkun, seventh day, direct engagement and intimate date with Author of Whole Thing Including Tikkun. That is the exact point.

  • If one is a Laborer in Tikkun, there is a need for regular briefings with Executive Home Office, no? You would not run a business and never sit down with Management, would you?

    Our concern for social problems is not our own invention. Once a week we acknowledge that, and re-charge from the source.

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