This week’s parsha, or Torah portion, is called Vayeira, which translates as “He appeared.” Some of the most famous moments in the Torah take place in this parsha: Early on in the portion, G-d promises Sarah, who is 90 years old, that within a year she will give birth. A year later, as G-d promised, Sarah and Abraham’s son Isaac is born. Later in the parsha, following G-d’s commandment, Abraham takes Isaac into the mountains of Moriah and prepares to sacrifice him, only to be stopped at the last minute by an angel of G-d.
The part of the parsha that really grabbed me, however, comes right at the beginning. Abraham looks up and finds three men standing in front of the tent where he and Sarah dwell. He rushes out to welcome the men, bringing them food and water and offering them a place to rest. He does all this for people who are complete strangers to him. And he does it during a time of great personal discomfort: He is ninety-nine years old, and just three days ago he’d been circumcised.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I can be more welcoming to others, and so this picture – of a man showing such openness and hospitality, even when he himself is not at his best – really stuck with me. I would like to think that I would immediately make someone who turned up on my figurative doorstep feel welcome. But the truth is, when I’m given the opportunity, I’m often so preoccupied – with work, with something I’m worrying about, with my own feelings of unease in a social situation – that I miss that crucial moment where I could reach out and make someone new feel at home. Even in my own home, when friends or family come over to visit, I’m sometimes so concerned with whether my apartment is clean enough, or if the food I’ve made is good enough, that I’m a stressed-out host, instead of the warm and engaging one I’d rather be.
Around the time I started thinking about being more open and welcoming, I renewed my meditation practice. So the clearing of my head that always accompanies restarting my practice dovetailed with this new line of thought. And since then I’ve found that when the opportunity to welcome someone does present itself – with a new member of any group I’m a part of, with a coworker, with friends I haven’t seen in a while – I not only have enough clarity to realize how much I would like to reach out to this person, but I’m also then able to put this desire into practice.
This parsha comes right at the time that the JMC reopens its doors and resumes its weekly sits after our late-summer break. The JMC has always been, to me, full of some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever known. Just writing the word “welcoming” makes me think of all the smiling faces I anticipate seeing, and all the friends I look forward to embracing in a warm hug. But I also think about all the new faces I hope to encounter – either people who are coming to the JMC for the first time, or people who attended many of the sits I was sad to miss during this past year and who I therefore have never met myself. And I think, What a perfect opportunity for me to try to be like Abraham: to welcome everyone into the circle of our sits, no matter how tired, or stressed, or anxious I may be before I walk into the room.
So my kavanah, or intention, is that our practice continue to make the JMC a warm and welcoming place, allowing us not only to reach out to others as Abraham did in that moment, but also to recognize the many times a stranger is appearing at the door of our tents, needing nothing more than a smile and an encouraging hello.