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    The heat of the day – Vayyera

    Abraham greets the angels at his tent door, woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860

    The patriarch was sitting at the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day (Gen. 18:1).

    Which day was it? Why was he not busy with his normal activities?

    The explanation of the Talmud (Bava Metzi’a 86b), followed by Rashi, is that it was the third day after Abraham’s circumcision when the pain was at its greatest.

    Instead of standing up and going out to find wayfarers to whom to offer hospitality, Abraham was sitting at the entrance of the tent, and it was Eliezer whom he sent out to find guests.

    It appears strange that Abraham, who always exerted himself to be hospitable, even at some inconvenience to himself, was concerned at this moment with his own pain.

    There are midrashic sources, however, that say that his pain was not merely physical, the result of his operation, but emotional and psychological.

    It hurt him that there did not seem to be many passers-by near the Oaks of Mamre that day and he thought that Eliezer, being a much younger man, would be able to roam further afield than he could and would succeed in finding potential guests even at something of a distance.

    As always the Midrash is reflecting a genuine Jewish experience that has manifested itself countless times in history.

    Jews have always endeavoured to fulfil the recommendation of the Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1 (Elu D’varim, which comes in the early morning service as an ethical program for the day) in relation to hachnanasat orchim, “hospitality to wayfarers” (later in the Siddur the greatness of hospitality is also emphasised in the Shabbat blessing for the congregation).

    It was taken for granted that a person who went to synagogue would come home with visitors. Sharing one’s table brought benefit to both guests and hosts. The guests enjoyed a meal and company: the hosts made new friends, heard Div’rei Torah and often learnt melodies from other parts of the Jewish world.

    A family that had no guests felt the pain of deprivation.

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