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Vayera: Training in Hospitality, by Dr. Irene Lancaster

During the Covid epidemic, hospitality has increased. There are many tales of people contacting their neighbours – and even people they didn’t know – in order to help with shopping and other services. This emphasis on loving kindness throughout the world is based one of the seminal teachings of Judaism, epitomized by our present Parsha.

The Parsha reading this week is Vayera (Genesis 18-22), which means And G-d appeared’. 

G-d appears to 99-year-old Abraham in the heat of the day, three days after his circumcision. G-d tests Abraham by sending him three visitors. Abraham doesn’t think of himself, but together with wife Sarah, rushes to offer as much hospitality as possible to these three strangers. The strangers turn out to be angels, i.e. guiding lights, but Abraham didn’t know it at first.

This story is a paradigm for our own age. As we come out of Covid, the UK will be hosting the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow from October 31st-November 12th.

During the Covid epidemic, hospitality has increased. There are many tales of people contacting their neighbours – and even people they didn’t know – in order to help with shopping and other services. This emphasis on loving kindness throughout the world is based one of the seminal teachings of Judaism, epitomized by our present Parsha.

Even more so this Shimta year, we are also encouraged to respect the land that the book of Genesis encourages us to ‘serve’ (avad) through working with it in a mindful way.  

The Shimta Year and strong emphasis on climate change go together.  In our global community we are all connected, and of all Biblical characters, Abraham epitomizes this positive trait of chesed.

Chesed is often translated as ‘loving kindness’. But chesed also means faithfulness, loyalty, trustworthiness, reliability and steadfastness.

What the world needs now is reliable leadership – epitomized by Abraham, the ‘servant’ par excellence, who puts himself out to help the wayfarer.

What the Parsha reading of Vayera appears to be teaching this Shabbat is that we can train ourselves in hospitality, by doing it little and often – phoning a lonely person; offering to do shopping; tending someone else’s garden; picking up street litter – the list goes on and on, until it becomes internalized and part of our daily routine.

As we come out of Covid and slowly return to normal, this teaching from Abraham’s life might inform us as to the way forward – let’s hope that the VIPs meeting in Glasgow, UK, in a week or two – In this Shimta year are inspired by our Patriarch, Abraham, to do their best for the world, our children and our grandchildren.


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Dr. Irene Lancaster is a Bible scholar, theologian and historian, who chairs the Broughton Park Dialogue Group, Greater Manchester, UK. Irene contributes regularly on Jewish and global subjects to the international network, Christian Today.

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