Parshat Vayeira: Open Mindsets versus Closed Mindsets

Mindset can be defined as a mental attitude, which color the way we act and approach situations.  In the Parshat Vayeira and it’s Haftorah, we can see the importance of having an open mindset and the consequences for having a closed mindset. There is a clear example in Vayeira of both a story that involves an open mindset and a story that involves a closed mindset. We can also see the punishment for a closed mindset in Vayeira and the reward for an open mindset can be found in the Haftorah. I would like to note here that this is just my interpretation of the Parsha and it’s Haftorah and not based on Meforshim.

The first story I will highlight is the story of Avraham Avinu and his three visitors. In Avraham’s story we see him jumping into action right away to greet the three guests approaching him. He invites them into his tent and offers them a chance to wash up. He then runs to Sarah and his cattle boy and arranges a meal for the guests. Avraham does not ask the guests any questions and he, to an extent, makes the guests feel like kings. He cared for his guests and accepted them no matter what religion they were apart of. This is story shows us an example of being open minded in the Torah and is the first time we see an act of Hachnasas Orchim in the Torah,

The next story is the story of Lot and his Hachnasas Orchim. I am not really going to focus on Lot’s actions or behaviors because he acted in a way that we can say he learned from Avraham. Lot even protected his guests from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah by having them enter through the servants’ entrance of his house. The close mindsets begin with Lot’s wife. According to a Meforesh, she went to a neighbor to borrow some salt, and tells the neighbors about her guests, knowing full well what would happen to them if the people of Sodom and Gomorrah found out about them. As a result, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah surrounded Lot’s house and try to take the guests to “get to know them.” These people show us a prime example of having a closed mindset. This means being unwilling to accept difference and strangers or newcomers.

The Parsha and Haftorah also allows us an opportunity to see that there is a reward for being open minded and a punishment for being closed-minded. We can see the reward for being open minded from the story of the Shunamite Woman in the Haftorah. She created a whole separate room in her house for Elisha the prophet to sleep in whenever he was in town. Elisha asks her at one point what kind of reward he can give her. She responds that she and her husband do not have any children. Elisha then promises her that in a year she would have a son. The reward does not seem to stop there. When the son was young, he became ill and passed away. The woman travels to Elisha and tells him what happen. Elisha rushes to her house and performs a miracle to bring the children back to life.

The punishment for being closed-minded can be found directly in the Parsha. The first example of the punishment is when the people who surrounded Lot’s house trying to reach Lot and his guests. The guests, who were actually Angels, blind everyone. The posuk makes sure to mention “from the young to the elderly”, which shows us that even the children at a young age being trained to be closed minded were punished. The ultimate punishment for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah’s closed-mindedness was when the Angels carried out the destruction of the two cities.  A punishment was also handed to Lot’s wife. The Angels told Lot and his family not to look back while escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot’s wife does not listen and looks back and turns into a pillar of salt. The reason why she was turned into a pillar of salt, as the earlier meforesh says, is because of her earlier actions.

I believe that the mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim involves more than taking care and respecting your guests. It also means, in my opinion, to open your heart and mind to everyone. This means to be open to all Jews, whether Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Mizrachi, Russian, orthodox, non-orthodox, or secular. It also means being open to non-Jews as well. They might not be Jewish, but they deserve to be treated as human beings. Being open implies not to say someone is wrong for having their views or opinions about anything, whether religion or politics or otherwise. After all, we are all created in the image of God.

About the Author
Justin Goldstein is currently a second year MSW student at Yeshiva University's Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
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