Vayeira: Guest List – Where Is The Cut Off Point?

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Do you like having guests? Do you enjoy hosting strangers in your home?

They say hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.

On the more positive side, there is the Yiddish expression: Ah gahst fahr a veyl zet fahr a meyl – “A guest for a while sees for a mile.” This means that when an outsider spends time in a new environment, the outsider often sees things that the insiders are blind to.

Sometimes it takes an outsider or an outside occurrence to help us see the beauty and depth of the Torah and its mitzvoth. In this case, the outside occurrence is the refugee crises in general and the American immigration crisis in particular.

What would the Torah have us do in response to such crises? How are we to understand the great mitzvah of welcoming guests, hachnasat orchim, in this context? Should our homes be open to everyone? Should Israeli Jews welcome Hamas adherents from Gaza into Tel Aviv? Or should American Jews welcome ISIS members into Boro Park?

May G-d protect us from this!

But where then does hospitality end? And where does it begin?

We find the fascinating answer in a story and insight from Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, the Beit Halevi, in explaining the difference between the welcoming of (the same) guests by Abraham and by his nephew, Lot, in this week’s Torah reading.

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