Make Mitzvot a Family Affair!

The following D'var Torah was published in the weekly newsletter of the Solomon Schecther Day School of Greater Boston.

Make Mitzvot A Family Affair

By Rabbi Ed Gelb, Director, Camp Ramah in New England

“What is your signature mitzvah?”  This question was posed to me at an event at the Jewish Theological Seminary last year.  It stemmed from Chancellor Arnie Eisen’s initiative to explore the role of mitzvot in our lives.  The first commandment that popped into my head was “Hachnasat Orchim” (welcoming guests).   When I went home that evening, I asked my son and wife the same question, and they independently concurred.  This week’s Torah portion provides an inspiring example of the mitzvah of welcoming guests, and brings home why it is our family favorite.

Parshat Vayera begins with a convalescing Abraham sitting in the door of his tent, talking to God.  Three strangers appear. Abraham rushes off to greet them and begs them to come in for a little food and water.  While they are waiting, he runs to have his wife to make bread and has his son Ishmael prepare the meat.  He then serves them himself.   The story emphasizes the frenzied activity to get things ready and the sharing of only the best food and drink.

Some fascinating aspects of hachnasat orchim jump out when reading the story.  First, Abraham literally stops talking to God in order to welcome guests.  Imagine how important this mitzvah is for him to do that!  Additionally, Abraham is recovering from surgery; he easily could have been resting in bed.  Yet he is sitting outside his tent watching for travelers.  What’s more, he is a proactive and gracious host.  By inviting people to come over or share a meal, we teach our families to be open and interested in others.  And we fulfill our responsibility to invite people into our communities. 

The Hebrew verb meaning to hurry or run is repeated five times in three paragraphs.  Abraham’s whole household is enlisted to accomplish this mitzvah.  There is something for everyone in the family to do to help welcome people.  Not only that, Abraham brings out the choicest foods and drink for three strangers, displaying his generosity.  Kids need to see their parents engaged in the mitzvot that we want them to do.  From tefila to Torah study to social action to charity, we cannot expect our children to take seriously what we ourselves do not participate in.  But if we make mitzvot like hospitality a family affair, the lesson will be internalized.

There are many reasons that Abraham proved worthy of being a patriarch.  His love of people and desire to engage them helped him to attract a following for his belief system.  He utilized his passion to pass on his beliefs to his family and those who visited him.  Thus welcoming guests was a significant component of his legacy. 

There are many mitzvot we can perform; what is your signature mitzvah?

Shabbat Shalom.

Categories: Director, Dvar Torah