Honor God by honoring His image - That means us!
In the middle east, hospitality is a way of life specifically amongst the Bedouin. The Bedouin, who are nomads, are considered to be “ideal Arabs” in as far as their extraordinary hospitality of welcoming strangers into their midst. In Arabic hospitality and generosity are known as “Karam”. The meaning of Karam is to provide hospitality with a passion that makes any guest feel welcome and at home.
In the western world, we have become accustomed to building a moat around our houses, pulling up the drawbridge and not letting anyone in. It is safe to say that many of us don't even know our neighbors. We invite people to come and visit us on specific, well orchestrated occasions. We spend too long thinking about the logistics of hosting. How much will it cost, how many chairs do we have around the table, what if they bring an extra kid? God forbid someone shows up at our door unexpectedly!
Far from home
When I was 15 my parents sent me from England to study in Israel in a Jewish religious environment - something I didn’t have in England.While I had good friends at school, I yearned for a family setting, sitting around a dinner table on shabbat. I got to know an elderly couple who lived in the village near the school. They invited me to stay with them for shabbat. They invited me into their house as if I was their own daughter, they treated me as if I was family, as if I had a right to be there. They made the best food and gave me the best bed. They made sure I was comfortable at all times and was lacking for nothing.
I didn’t understand this level of hospitality at first and I was very shy and embarrassed to be welcomed into their family in such a way.
Abraham makes a prioritization
In Genesis 18:1 - 2, We find God visiting Abraham while he sat at the opening of his tent. Rashi explains that God visited Abraham three days following his circumcision - when the pain was at its worst. From this we gather that visiting the sick is a mitzvah of the highest order. If its acceptable for God to pay a visit to Abraham while he recovers, all the more so for us to visit the sick and take care of them. As God is talking to Abraham, Abraham looks up and sees three strangers standing in front of him. He immediately runs from the opening of the tent and goes to meet them.
Could it be that Abraham interrupted God mid-sentence and ran from him in favor of greeting the strangers? This would be astonishing and incomprehensible, however reading the text we can assume nothing else.
In fact this interpretation of the text is the basis for a key principle in Judaism: Hacnasat Orchim - Welcoming the stranger is greater than receiving the divine presence. Abraham could have continued listening to God as he spoke, yet he decided to excuse himself in favor of greeting three human beings. God waited while Abraham attended to his guests before informing him on the fate of Sodom.
Where is God's spirit?
To anyone reading this interpretation it would seem disrespectful at least and sacrilegious for sure to ignore God in favor of strangers walking by. What Abraham understood is that God is in each and everyone of us. God’s spirit is in every human being. When you are in front of the God it is easy to receive the divine presence, however to find God in the face of a stranger is a true challenge. Abraham understood that serving God and offering hospitality to strangers is one and the same. We honor God by honoring those who were created in his image and we honor them by greeting them, welcoming them and serving them.
Abraham proved to us in the most dramatic way that we are all indeed created in the image of God, we all contain the spirit of God and as such we all have the potential for holiness. Welcoming a stranger into your home is not just about making them feel good, it is about honoring God and serving him through the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim.
Let's Welcome in the Stranger
The couple who literally adopted me for the whole two years I spent at the school understood the lesson that Abraham taught us, they understood that welcoming the stranger into your home is more important than actually talking to God face-to-face. What I learnt from this elderly couple has guided me throughout my life, I have always tried to pay their hospitality forward at every occasion.
The lesson to all of us is to drop the drawbridge, open the door, welcome people into your hearts and maybe into your homes, see each and every person as having the spark of God in them. Serving a stranger by welcoming them is tantamount to serving God.