Drash on Parashat Vayera
Rabbi Orna Triguboff
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, New South Wales, Australia
This week’s Torah reading reminds us of two key principles in Judaism that can help us enjoy a meaningful life: welcoming strangers and taking responsibility for our actions.
Avraham sees 3 strangers in the desert, outside his tent, and he and Sarah welcome them in for a meal and a rest. This scene has been understood throughout the ages as a symbol for the mitzvah of welcoming strangers and showing compassion. Just as Avraham and Sarah fed people in the wilderness, so we are commanded to help others in need. This can be done in so many ways – by giving to charity, by bringing people into our own homes and making them feel welcome, by noticing when someone feels uncomfortable and finding a way to make them at ease, by helping refugees and by having a general demeanour of openness. We are so quick to judge others about their ability to be welcoming, but we can never know what is happening for another. So, start with yourself. What does welcoming mean for you? What can you do to be more welcoming this week? What is your personal way of understanding this mitzvah?
Now, how about contemplating the way you welcome yourself. Do you give yourself time to have wholesome, nutritional meals? Do you give yourself rest when you need it? You deserve it too!
The Kabbalists of Tsfat, of the 16th Century, had a tradition of adopting an inspirational key phrase or word from Torah, and holding it in their mind so as to help bring them closer to holiness. This week, the word Hineini, “I am here”, appears in the Torah. When G-d calls, “Avraham”, he answers, Hineini “I am here”. Just one Hebrew word, yet it is so full of meaning that it’s worth using as a “mantra” or inspirational saying to hold close to our hearts. Hineinireminds us that we need to be present, to take responsibility and to act from a space of integrity. As a practice of daily awareness, ask yourself regularly, “Am I here? Am I present to this situation? Am I doing the best I can at this very moment?” That is the essence of the word Hineini.
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