Abraham Sits By The Tent

In the cycle of the Torah, we are spending lots of time with Abraham. In the last parsha, Lech Lecha, God came to him and said, “Hey. Abe. Get up, leave your family, take your wife, and go. Where? You want to know where? I’ll show you later. You want to know what the land is called? Later, later. Just go.”

Maybe the destination didn’t have a name yet. Maybe God was just keeping secrets, or maybe the place needed to earn its name like Beth El, or “House of God,” where Jacob built his altar. Regardless, Abraham went. Last week was the shabbat of going forward, going out.

This week we read from Vayera (And God revealed himself). Abraham isn’t wandering anymore. In fact, we meet at his tent. He’s recovering from his days-old circumcision and God himself is paying a sick call.

One thing to note: Abraham is sitting outside his tent. In the rabbinic imagination, Abraham’s tent was open on all sides in order to welcome the wanderers and wayfarers. The other people who weren’t quite sure where they were going.

Abraham was sitting and waiting for these travelers when God stopped by for a visit. They kibitzed and schmoozed, caught up on this and that, yadda yadda.

In the middle of this talk, Abraham spotted three travelers. He jumped up, left God, ran to greet them and asked them to rest a while in his tent.

He did not stop to ask what they believed, what they held valuable, where they were from, where they were going, or who their leader was. He stood and, despite his own pain, began the welcoming.

Rest here.
Eat here.
Be my guest.
Nourish yourself. Nourish your self.

There are two ways to live in this world. One is to live with the doors and windows closed and the other is to throw them wide open. If you live with the doors closed, you concentrate on the needs of your house -- security, food, safety, shelter. And these are all important things, but it’s easy to shut out the world and forget about the needs beyond your doorway and your wifi connection.

In the writings of the rabbis, having your concerns bounded by the walls of your house is called Sodom, which is also in this week’s portion. The sin of Sodom was the elevation of private property to the level of religious belief, to the level of idolatry. God destroyed Sodom after hearing the cry of a young woman who was being tortured for the sin of sharing her food, her portion, with another person. Kindness was a sin. The rabbis knew that Sodom is the sad, logical, tragic end of “What is mine is mine. What is yours is yours.”

Abraham is the opposite of that. And in fact, in the ultimate act of chutzpah, he challenges God when the holy one decides to destroy the people of Sodom for their wickedness.

Abraham, the spiritual father of mankind and its protector, rose to their defense:

“Shall you destroy the righteous together with the wicked?”
“It would be sacrilege for you to do such a thing… shall the judge of the world not do justice?”

To God he says this.

God offers a bargain. If he finds 50 righteous people, he will spare the entire area for their sake.
Abraham spoke up again and said, “I have already said too much before my Lord.  But what if there are only 45?”

God says he will not destroy it if there are 45.

What about 40? Abraham persists? 35? 30? 20? 10?

We know how the story ends. There were not even 10 righteous ones, and God destroyed the cities, judging them irredeemable.

Every year we read it the Torah sends us a different message. This is not the same Abraham I met last November, or 5 years ago.  

This Abraham brings with to me a message of hope.

It only takes 10.

If there were only 10 righteous people in the city, everyone would be saved. Did the others suddenly become righteous? Worthy of being saved because a minyan among them was good?

Of course not. But the power of those 10 held the possibility of change.

The possibility of influence.

If as few as 10 were like Abraham and offered radical hospitality, radical empathy, radical compassion, and radical understanding to their neighbors…. Those neighbors might change.

And then there would be 11, or 12, or 15, or 20, or 50. They would be an ever-growing light in the darkness, for only the light can drive away the darkness and the fear and uncertainty and the walls that come with it.

Abraham did not believe that the boundaries of his house were the boundaries of his responsibility or his humanity. He moved fluidly through the public and private spaces, the inside and the outside, his and not his, the friend and the stranger.

It is time for all of us to go and sit outside and see who is wandering by. If there is a way to build a more perfect union, community, kehilah, state, or country, it starts by leaving our tent -- even if God dropped by for a chat -- to take responsibility for those wandering on the road. Perhaps if we offer rest, a nosh, and a compassionate ear, we can give it a worthy name when we arrive.

We can call it justice.
We can call it Shalom.

We can call it home.

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