It has often been questioned throughout the ages the necessity of the tales and stories of the Torah.
Ultimately the Torah is a codex, a manual and a guide written in order to lead us in living a pious and moral life.
Thus, why is it necessary for Torah to be so interluded with sagas and narratives which seemingly add little to the laws relevant in our lives?
In his acceptance speech for the 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis-Singer described Jewish literature as being:
“Capable of bringing new horizons and new perspectives – philosophical, religious, aesthetical and even social. In the history of old Jewish literature there was never any basic difference between the poet and the prophet. Our ancient poetry often became law and a way of life.”
Through the stories of we can delve into the ‘psyche’ and discern the inner-meanings and internal perspectives of the mitzvot and commandments.
Torah mandates many positive societal mitzvot such as ‘loving your fellow man as yourself’ and ‘pursuing justice and kindness’. However Torah does not dictate as to what extent these commandments should go. The Bible does not detail any limitations and with how much religious fervor they should be pursued.
Only through several hints of Abraham’s relentless pursuit of hospitality, is it truly illustrated the all encompassing lengths and breadths Torah prescribes for us to love and cherish one another.
First and foremost, is Abraham’s remarkable desire to host guests at the onset of Parshat Vayera. At the ripe age of ninety nine, Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent recuperating from his ‘Brit Milah.’ The Torah describes Abraham sitting in the “heat of the day” but according to commentators it was no mere Gold Coast or Floridian sun in which so many of us love, but rather a scorching temperature which G-d had caused purposely in order to discourage any visitors disturbing Abraham’s recovery. Despite all these circumstances Abraham enthusiastically runs in order to invite the three angels to be his guests!
In addition, the very nature of the three angels being described as desert nomads further depict the lengths of vast love and care one should have for all people. One of the prime reasons Abraham pitched his tent in the middle of the desert was due to the relentless persecution he suffered from other idolatrous societies in his midst. Abraham’s ethical monotheism and the morality he lived by caused him great ridicule and physical harm. Nevertheless Abraham requested of these assumed desert wayfarers, known for their idolatry and banditry, to dine and lodge in his tent.
Last but not least, ‘Vayeria’ literally means and “G-d appeared before him.” To contextualize, Abraham’s encounter of the angels occurs when G-d is in the midst of well-wishing Abraham a speedy recovery from his circumcision. Placing on hold his discussion with Hashem, Abraham rushes out to invite these seemingly lowly vagrants into his abode!
The Talmud says ‘Ma’aseh Avot Siman Lebanim’- ‘the stories and traversings of our forefathers are signs and guides for us’ even in this modern day. The actions of Abraham set the par as to what lengths kindness and hosting must reach.
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Marek Edelman Centenary Lecture in which Senator Patrick Dodson – ‘The Father of Reconciliation’ spoke. Not only did Senator Dodson speak about the shared commonalities between Indigenous Australians and the Jewish people in the face of persecution and injustice, but also in their perseverance and strength in maintaining traditions and heritage in an ever-changing and somewhat hostile society.
Senator Dodson’s eloquent words are echoed in this week’s Torah portion. Abraham depicts the vitality and importance of being a gracious host and guest. Ultimately we, as Australian Jews, are guests in this land of the First People. As seen in this week’s Parsha it is our obligation to be gracious guests but also to be gracious hosts.
Sadly even till today further discrimination and unbridled societal challenges face the Indigenous Australian population and many lack the prosperity and success that we Australian Jews are often blessed to have on their ancient land. It is our duty to help and assist those in need whenever we can.
A key component in understanding our forefather Abraham is in his name. ‘Av-Ram’- ‘The Father to Many.’ Abraham’s messages and spirit are still vitally prevalent today for us and for all people.