In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham, like our beloved rabbi, is recovering from surgery. Abraham is newly circumcised and at an old age, most likely in excruciating pain. In this moment of pain, we see Abraham perform an extraordinary act of kindness. In the heat of the day, while communing with the Divine, Abraham pauses for “hachnasat orchim,” the welcoming of strangers into his tent. Even in his pain, he does not shut down to the need of others, and he greets them and offers them hospitality.
Abraham reminds us that when we feel like we are not at our physical or emotional best, we allow ourselves to be in pain but to also remember those in need. When we are feeling helpless, we help someone.
In moments when we want to contract, we need to expand. Our tradition offers this prayer when we are suffering: and an opportunity for blessing when we say thank you for giving me the strength, here is an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, “modim anachnu lach-“ we are thankful. Helping others in need does not have to be about politics or beliefs. Abraham affirms that social responsibility must supersede religious belief and practice, articulated in the Talmud: hachnasat orchim — “Welcoming guests is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a). Our tradition asks us, can we go beyond our own personal story to go to something bigger, something more whole?
“Hachnasat Orchim” looks different in a pandemic. While we all want to help through “bikur cholim” “visiting of the sick” by going to Abington Hospital to visit Rabbi Sussman; or to be next to those we love when they are suffering with Covid-19, or visit a friend in need. Instead, kindness can be found in a phone call, text message, sending a meal through our Caring Community, bringing food to the synagogue, group card, and in prayer.
Prayer and love are healing. Helping those in need brings a sense of holiness and wholeness to our hearts, our community and our world.
Cantor Amy E. Levy