In this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, G-d appears and converses with Abraham as he sat in the door of his tent. Meanwhile, Abraham noticed three strangers approaching, and wishing to offer them the hospitality of his home, he turns to the Almighty and says, “Do not go away, I pray, from your servant,” or in simpler language, “Would G-d mind waiting while I show hospitality to these strangers?”
From this episode, the rabbis deduce that welcoming guests is even more important than welcoming the Shechinah or G-d’s presence. After Abraham had fully discharged his duty of hospitality, having given them food and drink, we read that the men left and went on their way. Then the Torah tells us, “and Abraham stood yet before G-d. The travelers continued on their journey and Abraham returned to speak with his Creator.
Here is one of the main teachings of Judaism — teaching us how man can feel most human, how man can come to terms with himself and G-d.
How the new Jewish convert Abraham must have deliberated at that moment. “Shall I turn away from G-d? Shall I let him wait?” I believe that Abraham must have realized the need for a synthesis or blending of both religion and ethics if his newly found faith was to have any meaning. Either one without the other to complement it does not constitute a true and perfect faith by which to live. Jewish law always has a dual role, both faith and practice.
The Ten Commandments contains two types of percepts: those governing man’s relationship, to his fellow man and those governing man’s relationship to Hashem. A complete Jew must be loyal to G-d and his teachings at the same time; he must put this faith into action by being of service to his fellow man. The most important obligation for a Jew is that not only must he be committed to his religion, but also he must have a special moral commitment to all people.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)