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Sermon recording mp3:

https://soundcloud.com/sean-emslie/01-vayera-a-lesson-on-hospitality


This will be a look at Genesis 18:1-8, the opening verses of Parashat Vayera.

(1) And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; (2) and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth, (3) and said: ‘My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. (4) Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree. (5) And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and stay ye your heart; after that ye shall pass on; forasmuch as ye are come to your servant.’ And they said: ‘So do, as thou hast said.’ (6) And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said: ‘Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.’ (7) And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hastened to dress it. (8) And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.

In verse 1 we read:

(1) And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

Tradition says that this is 3 days after Abraham circumcised himself.  Rabbi Sforno put forward that the promise of Isaac later in this chapter was given here because this was the place that Abraham showed his faithfulness to God by circumcising himself and thereby was worthy for the blessing promised him (Sforno on Genesis 18:1:1).

In verse 2 we read:

(2) and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth,

Abraham sees three visitors before him, later called angels.  It is understood based on verse 1 that one of the three is God in human form, known as a theophany and the other 2 are angels that later in the parasha will go down to rescue Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Verse 3 reads:

(3) and said: ‘My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.

In the Talmud in Shabbat 127a, Rav is quoted saying,

“Welcoming guests is more important than receiving the Face of the Shekhinah, as it says, do not pass by your servant (Gen. 18:3)”.

Abraham here is not only demonstrating the importance of hospitality that Rav likened to being more important than welcoming the Shekhina (the presence of God), herein Abraham is actually welcoming God in the human form of one of the visitors. This appearance of God is known by the term “theophany”.

Sarna in the JPS Commentary on Genesis wrote:

“Unlike the previous theophanies, this one is not accompanied by an act of worship or the building of an altar; in actual fact, hospitality to strangers itself becomes an act of worship” (p. 128).

Whereas in other encounters with God that we see in the lives of the Patriarchs where there encounter with God is followed by the building of an altar and sacrifice, here there is no altar built but per Sarna, it is Abraham’s hospitality that is his act of worship.

In verse 4 we read:

(4) Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree.

In an interesting interpretation on this story that I have not seen before, being that I have always understood one of the visitors to have been God in human form along with 2 angels, Rabbeinu Chananel put forward that God actually appeared in this story as one of the trees (Rabbeinu Chananel on Genesis 18:4:1).  He explained that God appeared as a tree to show Abraham that a tree even though it is old can bring forth new branches so then Abraham and Sarah who were old could like a tree bring forth new life, a son Isaac.

In verses 5 to 7 we see the preparation for a meal:

(5) And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and stay ye your heart; after that ye shall pass on; forasmuch as ye are come to your servant.’ And they said: ‘So do, as thou hast said.’ (6) And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said: ‘Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.’ (7) And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hastened to dress it.

Abraham’s quick action and meticulous work reflects what Shammai said in Pirkei Avot 1:15:

“Make your Torah permanent, say little and do much, and receive every person with a pleasant countenance”.

Sarna also commented that as a sign of great respect and hospitality that Abraham offered his guests bread from the finest flour, yogurt and milk that were highly valued commodities in the Near East, even used in some cultures religious worship and he concluded with the calf, a highly valued animal that he gave to his guests (p. 129).

Now to verse 8:

(8) And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.

It is interesting that Abraham in his meal for his guests serves them a meal that included milk and meat, which the Torah would prohibit as we read three times in the Torah.

It could be said that Abraham had not received the command to not mix meat and milk that was given on Mt. Sinai to Moses and, therefore, this was not yet a violation of God’s will for him.

It could be said that the separating of milk and meat was a new commandment given at Sinai can be seen in our tradition to eat dairy dishes on Shavuot.  Traditionally dairy dishes are eaten on Shavuot because with the giving of the Torah there was now the requirement to separate milk and meat dishes from being served together so to avoid violating this new commandment it was decided to just have dairy dishes, so as not to have to worry about having meat and dairy issues.  This could be seen as a way of understanding Abraham not being bound by this later revealed commandment.

The most common interpretation in Judaism for this verse reflected in Josephus, Targum Jonathan and the Talmud is that the angels only appeared to eat and, therefore, they did not violate the Torah’s command, but that still leaves the problem of Abraham serving them a meal with meat and milk.

One way of explaining the problem of Abraham serving a meal with milk and meat put forward by Daat Zkenim, a group of medieval rabbis, was that the laws of the Torah did not apply to the angels, so then like Gentiles the angels are free to eat milk and meat together without violating Torah commands.

They also defended Abraham by stating that it should be understood that Abraham gave the visitors milk dishes first while he killed, prepared and cooked the meat, so then the milk dishes could be seen as an appetizer that was eaten before the meat was later served (Daat Zkenim on Genesis 18:8:1).

If Abraham did serve the milk dishes first and then later served the meat then this is consistent with the Messianic Jewish Rabbinic Council’s Standards that read:

“Our basic practice involves avoiding the consumption of meat products (including fowl) and obvious dairy products (or foods containing obvious dairy products) together in a given meal. Meat may be eaten after eating obvious dairy foods without any time interval, though they should not be present together at the same table. After eating a meat meal, the minimum time interval before eating obvious dairy products should be one hour”.

(http://ourrabbis.org/main/halakhah-mainmenu-26/kashrut-mainmenu-34)

RaDaK, Rabbi David Kimchi, put forward that Abraham offered the guests a choice of a milk meal or a meat meal (kind of like Nagila Pizza and Nagila Meating Place) on Pico Blvd. One side is the dairy restaurant (with great spinach pizza) and next door is the meat restaurant. You can even sit outside on the patio where there is a short wall and have your dairy eating friends eating pizza and you on the other side of the fence having a hamburger.

After Abraham serves his guests a meal, showing hospitality and as earlier mentioned showing an act of worship to God, he and Sarah receive the promise of the birth of Isaac. The promise of a son from Sarah is a continuing fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

In the Besorah reading for Vayera from the Chayyei Yeshua cycle we will look at John 2:1-12 and see another example of hospitality:

1On Tuesday there was a wedding at Kanah in the Galil; and the mother of Yeshua was there.

2Yeshua too was invited to the wedding, along with his talmidim.

3The wine ran out, and Yeshua’s mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4Yeshua replied, “Mother, why should that concern me?—or you? My time hasn’t come yet.”

In verse 1 we see that it states that the wedding party was on Tuesday.  This seemed odd to state the day.  In my research I came across that according to the Talmud, weddings for a virgin would take place on Wednesdays or for a widow on Thursdays.  If the bride in this case was a virgin, Tuesday would be the last of the seven day wedding feast.  This would mean that the bridegroom had not planned for enough wine for all seven days of the wedding feast.  Beyond embarrassment and shame, I came to see that it could also bring him civil liability and to be sued for being inhospitable.  So beyond avoiding shame, Yeshua here is also able to help him avoid being sued for his inhospitality.

Verse 4 has always seemed to bother me that Yeshua was somehow being disrespectful to his mother or even worse dishonoring her and violating the fifth commandment, especially in the King James Version where He calls her “Woman”. 

But Dr. David Stern commented on this verse and helped me understand it better when he wrote:

“Yeshua’s comment is meant to aid her in the transition from seeing him as her child to seeing him as her Lord, to keep her from undue pride, and to indicate that he as Lord sovereignly determines when he will intervene in human affairs—he does not perform miracles on demand merely to impress his friends, or even to give naches (a Yiddish word that means “the kind of joy a mother feels”) to his mother”.

We continue reading:

5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6Now six stone water-jars were standing there for the Jewish ceremonial washings, each with a capacity of twenty or thirty gallons.

7Yeshua told them, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim.

8He said, “Now draw some out, and take it to the man in charge of the banquet”; and they took it.

9The man in charge tasted the water; it had now turned into wine! He did not know where it had come from, but the servants who had drawn the water knew. So he called the bridegroom

10and said to him, “Everyone else serves the good wine first and the poorer wine after people have drunk freely. But you have kept the good wine until now!”

Not only did Yeshua here in what is considered his first miraculous sign help the bridegroom to be hospitable by keeping the wine flowing at the wedding.  Yeshua like Abraham who gave of the best of his produce to his guests, Yeshua here made the best wine for the wedding.

This is another story of hospitality and an appearance and revealing of God, this time with Yeshua in the flesh at the wedding and revealing His divine power in an act of helping the bridegroom from seeming inhospitable by running out of wine.

11This, the first of Yeshua’s miraculous signs, he did at Kanah in the Galil; he manifested his glory, and his talmidim came to trust in him.

12Afterwards, he, his mother and brothers, and his talmidim went down to K’far-Nachum and stayed there a few days.

The New American Commentary on John states:

“The point of this story is brought together in v. 11. The words are simple, but the meaning is profound. John identified the action in the story as a “sign”.

In John a sign is more than just a wonder; it is a powerful act for the one who has eyes to see because it points to the reality of who [Yeshua] is.

This Cana story provided an epiphany, a manifestation (ephanerōsen) of [Yeshua’s] glory. Glory in John is derived from the [Hebrew Bible’s] idea of God’s kābōd, which implies the mighty power of God evidenced in epiphanies or perceived manifestations of that power.

In John the mighty God is to be perceived as acting in Yeshua. The signs therefore point the reader to the reality that the God of the [Hebrew Bible] has acted anew in [Messiah Yeshua]”.

In the Parasha we have seen Abraham’s hospitality to the three visitors, one of which can be understood as a theophany or God revealed in physical form and two angels that will after this meal go down to Sodom to rescue Lot. 

Abraham saw God and received the news of the birth of a son by Sarah to come within a year.  Abraham was revealed that a miraculous birth was to come to continue the fulfilling of God’s promises.

In our Besora reading in John, we see Yeshua turning water into wine, a miraculous sign of his divine nature within an act of hospitality of helping the bridegroom to not be embarrassed in front of his wedding guests.  Which actually at the time could have made the bridegroom liable to be sued for being inhospitable by inviting guests to an event and not providing for them adequately.

Yeshua like his forefather Abraham lived a life of hospitality and faith in God’s plan and began making Himself known to the world as the Divine Son at a wedding in Cana.

May we follow the example of our Messiah and Father Abraham and live lives of hospitality and service to all and reveal the goodness and power of God in our world.


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