Parshat Vayera: The Dignity We All Deserve

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Every single human is ingrained with a spark of Hashem. Those we work with, pass on the street, see in the news, and interact with on a daily basis are people worthy of respect and dignity. Unfortunately, many “otherize” those they deem inferior or different, who challenge them in ways they don’t like, whether direct or indirect. In Parshat Vayera, we see Avraham Avinu demonstrating the purest and most genuine quality: pure humanity.

The parsha begins with Avraham recovering from his brit milah (covenantal circumcision) at the foot of his tent in the blazing heat as Hashem appears before him. Then, the Torah recounts how Avraham notices three angels, whom Avraham perceived as men, passing by his tent and immediately greets them. “And he said, ‘My lords, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant. Please let a little water be taken and bathe your feet and recline under the tree.” (Bereishis 18:3-4). Many commentaries point out Avraham’s zeal and genuineness for the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim (welcoming guests) with great praise.

Rav Soloveitchik asks why hachnasas orchim is emphasized so explicitly by the Torah here and shares a profound insight into the deepest meaning of this highly lauded act. He explains that this is often for the poor, as the wealthy are seldom in need of hospitality, and it differs significantly from other acts of charity.

“Giving tzedakah demonstrates sympathy,” Rav Soloveitchik writes. “Hachnasas orchim, however, demonstrates full human equality, the belief that every being has dignity and is just as important as any other… If I invite him in, that means that no matter what his station in life, I am treating him with respect, as an equal” (Abraham’s Journey, p. 168).[1]

With this understanding, Avraham did not simply have the instinct to welcome in guests as an act of authentic kindness. Rather, his deepest essence intuited the humanity in every single person — even three random folks along the road — and he could do nothing but act upon that. This is a great stride beyond civility or being cordial. With hachnasa orchim, you’re aware of the vulnerability and overt insecurity of another person, but unaffected by any superficial, societal perceptions, you only see their humanity, an identity deserving nothing short of love and respect.

There are many Mishnayot in Pirkei Avot that echo this idea, but two in particular blend together very well. The first says, “One who is pleasing to his fellow man is pleasing to Hashem,” (3:10) and the second asks, “Who is honored? He who honors his fellow human beings” (4:1). Hashem does not gift us with a breath of life every morning, a sustenance that propels us every moment of the day, to disrespect another person.

Oftentimes, if one fails to advance themselves on the pedestal they yearn for, they’ll degrade another to create the mirage that, by comparison, they truly do stand above others. It’s in response to this distorted perspective that the Mishna tells us that the honor we desire can only be achieved by honoring others, by treating them as human beings.

It’s easy to think of others as an abstraction, a prop, or an extra in the story of our life. Avraham teaches us much more than just treating your guests well. He shows us that every single person is a person deserving of love, attention, and dignity, and we are not entitled to take that away

[1] As seen in The Neuwirth Edition of “Chumash Mesorat HaRav,” Bereishis, p. 117

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying International and Global Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, specifically on the weekly parsha.
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