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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - October 2019
From the Rabbi - October 2019 PDF Print E-mail
The Talmud teaches that welcoming the stranger is a greater mitzvah than welcoming G-d’s presence. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t welcome G-d’s presence (we should!) but that for us as human beings we start by welcoming the stanger, and by doing this the welcoming of G-d’s presence in our lives will follow. 

The Jewish ideal of welcoming the stranger begins with Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews.  Genesis chapter 18 opens with Abraham sitting in the doorway of his tent on a hot day. Three strangers appear to him and he “ran to greet them”, bowed down to them, and offered them gracious hospitality of food (prepared by Sarah), water, and shade. According to the medieval commentator Rashi, Abraham was sitting at the front of the tent in order to more effectively and immediately welcome any passing stranger.  Further he says that Abraham and Sarah made sure that their tent was in a central place in the camp and was rolled up on all four sides so that he could see travelers coming from any direction and all would feel welcome approaching their open tent.

This ideal is reflected in many aspects of Jewish tradition.  The traditional marital chuppah is open on all sides to inspire every wedding couple to follow Abraham and Sarah’s welcoming attitude in their own home.  One of the main mitzvoth connected to the festival of Sukkot is hachnasat orchim, showing hospitality to guests in our Sukkah. And on Passover, we declare: “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share in the meal.”

As a community we do a great job welcoming people who walk through our doors.  So many have told me how they have felt immediately welcomed when they attend a service or other event at Congregation Beth Israel, how they really do feel that this family of families makes them feel like they are part of the family. 

But we can do better.  In particular we know that there are unaffiliated Jews out there who, for whatever reason, have not taken the opportunity to walk through our door or who are resistant to doing so.  While synagogue may not be for everyone we must do all we can to be at the door of our “tent” to share how wonderful this congregation and community really is to those who could appreciate it but have not yet chosen to do so.  To do this each of us must take on the role of Abraham and Sarah, being ambassadors for the congregation, sharing how the community has touched our lives, and how our programs and services have inspired us and engaged us.  If you know unaffiliated Jews, or people who have shown a genuine interest in becoming Jewish, share your stories with them about how wonderful the community is, encourage them to be in contact, and let us know if they are perhaps ready to take the leap but need convincing from a board member or a rabbi. 

We are all Abraham and we are all Sarah and all of us can be ambassadors for the congregation, welcoming all as guests into our congregational tent, our family of families. 

                    Rabbi Ilan Emanuel



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