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Welcoming Like Abraham

11/17/2016 01:47:23 AM

Nov17

Hospitality, Hachnassat Orchim, is an essential Jewish value, and it starts in this week’s Torah portion,  Genesis Chapter 18.   God appears to Abraham, as Abraham is sitting in his tent.  Just as Abraham is engaged in that experience, the focus of the story shifts, as three anonymous visitors arrive and Abraham runs to greet them and feed them.  Surely nothing could be more important than talking to God?  Isn’t it rude to turn away from a close encounter with God and greet an unknown visitor?

According to the sage Rav, as cited in the Talmud (tractate Shabbat 127a), Abraham had no compunction about asking God to “hold on” while he went to attend to what he believed were human visitors, and perhaps even more shockingly, God endorsed this behavior.  God grants us leave to turn from His service for just a moment to greet another who is created in the divine image.  Indeed, one of the few exceptions to the prohibition on conversation during certain prayers that one may pause to greet another, or respond to greetings.

How does that apply to us at B’nai Torah?  Think about your first, or  your most recent visit to B’nai Torah.  Did someone say hello to you?  Did you feel welcome and at home? If you are reading this, then the answer is more likely to be yes.  Perhaps you now identify as one of the “regulars” and you know that you will see friends each week.

But maybe you didn’t.  For a period of time, we were known as one of the friendliest congregations in Atlanta.    As our congregants have found their friends and social groups, they may be less likely to reach out to someone new.    I talk to people all the time (members and not) who walk in for the first time, or the first time in a while, and don’t have the warm feeling we would want them to have.   Many weeks we have visitors for a simcha, who may be visiting for just one time, and need help feeling comfortable with our service and facilities.

We each have the opportunity to perform the same mitzvah as Abraham, by serving as a greeter on Friday night or Shabbat morning.  Greeters stand by the door and make sure that each person entering our congregation feels how welcoming we can be, and help deal sensitively with any issues that might arise (people who don’t know our services and facility, and might unknowingly be disruptive, or people with special needs who need assistance).  After services, they can make sure that everyone leaves with a good feeling about our congregation.

I hope that  some of us would be willing to follow in Abraham’s footsteps, serving as a greeter once a month, and that each member of the congregation will consider being a greeter at least once a year.  Joanna Israel  joanna_kornhauser@yahoo.com is coordinating these efforts.  Please be in touch with her to be a part of this important Mitzvah.

Sun, December 15 2019 17 Kislev 5780