This past weekend, in approach to Thanksgiving, we considered the spirituality of welcome--the power of hachnasat orchim, of hospitality, to create a quality of in our lives--a level of virtue--for which we can be proud and grateful. We admired Abraham as he and Sarah hastened to welcome guests, drawing in sojourners with warmth and grace--even as our patriarch was healing from his brit milah. We marveled at Rebekah's capacity to water a visitor's 10 camels, drawing some 500 gallons of water from a well. According to the Talmud, the practice of hachnasat orchim is so important that the sages consider it a greater mitzvah than Shechinah, welcoming God's presence. (Shabbat 127a) Our ancestors remain an inspiring example of this faithful practice.
Then, we considered how to make our own tents more inviting, our homes and our congregation more welcoming--in the spirit of the prayer Mah tovu: How good are your tents (O people) of Jacob; Your prayer houses, O Israel. (Num. 24:5) First, of course, we achieved consensus that good hospitality requires the offering of tasty snacks and beverages. But, we also know that hachnasat orchim requires us to make our spaces safe for gathering and connecting--to create an openness that beckons: "Come on in," to nurture a sense of belonging, to ensure room for conversations hard to have in such a fractured world. (I recommend Ron Wolfson's The Spirituality of Welcoming for valuable insight into the sacred practice of hachnasat orchim and tent-building.)
At the conclusion of our conversation during Sunday's service, one of our youngest religious school students said, in her own precious words, that our nation can be welcoming, too. And I say to our young chachama (wise one): kol ha-kavod (all my respect)! From ancient wisdom, God summons us to love the sojourner, for we ourselves were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:19) And, in her iconic poem which adorns the Statue of Liberty, our own great hostess of freedom, Emma Lazarus, cries out: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" An open tent is ultimately a place of refuge. A place of dignity and opportunity. A place in which people look into each other's eyes and see the spark of God there, the deep, intrinsic worth there. What attitude could be more inviting? Our nation is built on this faith and we, the progeny of immigrants and refugees, must remain empathic. We must fight through whatever fears of otherness possess us and welcome the tempest tost in reasonable, light-filled, mentschlich ways.
I am thankful to serve the Emanuel family and work with you to forge an open, inviting, and inclusive community. And, I appreciate the agency we all have to join as a collective force for good to ensure our city and nation champion a welcoming spirit consistent with our most precious and enduring humanity.
Betsy, Cara and Jared join me in wishing you and yours a happy thanksgiving.
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!
Zie gezunt (Be well):
Rabbi Craig Marantz