Monday, October 26, 2009

Parshat Vayera - The Oaks of Mamre, the First Recovery Room

Parshat Vayera

“The Eternal One appeared to him by the Oaks of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot." (Genesis 18:1)

Right from the beginning, the Torah portions make certain we understand all that is about to happen is the doing of God. The next verse continues, "Looking up he saw three men standing near him." Abraham is sitting at the opening of his tent, shading himself from the heat of the day.” In the Talmud it teaches this was the third day after Abraham's circumcision, and God was fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim - visiting the sick. But even so, as he sat there convalescing, Abraham seemed caught off guard by these special visitors who seem to appear out of nowhere. He lifts up his eyes and suddenly sees they are standing by him. The language implies that he was startled by their sudden appearance. Although he does not realize it right away, these men are representatives of God.
One of the many things we learn about in the book of Genesis is the special nature of the Patriarchs’ relationship to God, they were singled out by the intimate nature of their relationship with God. But, at the very end of the Torah it says, "Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Eternal knew face to face" (Deut. 34:10). So, if Moses was the only one to interface with God directly, then how did the others come to know God? More importantly what about us? How can we connect to God?
The nature of each of our relationships with God is personal and individual. However, in Judaism there are certain connections made within the context of a relationship with God - we have certain elements of practice which are supposed to help shape our interaction, so our connection is deeper, more profound. We get a hint of this in the story with Abraham where both he and God exhibit behavior to guide us in connection. In this story two mitzvot are at the center: Bikkur Cholim and Hachnasat Orchim (Visiting the Ill and Welcoming Guests) and so we too the Torah reminds us here must live up to this value – we too must care for others just as God cared for Abraham and all our ancestors. In so doing, by being dedicated to these mitzvoth we reflect our godliness, not only helping those in need and make our own lives richer but we also deepen our connection to God, creating a more powerful and actionable relationship.So what have you done this week or better yet today to live up to that example? Have you visited a hospital? Hospice? A home bound community member recently? And what about guests - Abraham on the 3rd day after surgery was willing to welcome guests into his home are you so generous with your home and time?

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