Can you break off a conversation with G-d? Abraham did!

At the beginning of this week’s parasha G-d appears to Abraham as he was sitting by the entrance of his tent, looking for visitors. He spies three strangers approaching. Turning to G-d he says: “My L-d, if I have found favour in your eyes, do not leave your servant.” [i.e. Please wait until I have given hospitality to these men.] He then turned to the men and said: “Let me send for some water so that you may bathe your feet and rest under this tree” (Rashi’s second explanation.)

This daring interpretation became the basis for a principle in Judaism: “Hospitality is greater than receiving the Divine presence.”

Faced with a choice between listening to G-d, and offering hospitality to what seemed to be human beings, Abraham chose the latter. G-d accepted his request, and waited while Abraham brought the visitors food and drink, before engaging him in dialogue about the fate of Sodom.

What are we to make of this? Isn’t it disrespectful at best, heretical at worst, to put attention to the needs of human beings before standing in the presence of G-d?

The Maharal of Prague, expresses a beautiful and profound idea. (Netivot Olam, Netiv Hachnasat Orchim 4). In appropriately welcoming another human being you are acknowledging the divine presence that is in each and every one of us.

Abraham was the founder of monotheism. He would preach the One G-d to all comers. As the late Rabbi Lord Sacks – whose yahrzeit falls on this Shabbat – expressed it so eloquently: “Abraham…knew how to see the trace of G-d in the face of the stranger.”

In recognising that everyone, even people who act wickedly, are created in the image of G-d, Abraham goes on to pray for the people of Sodom. He asks that, in the merit of the righteous people who are there, they too could be saved.

There are times, such as now in Gaza, when we have to wage war and people are killed. Our cause is just and the Israeli Army makes extraordinary efforts to minimise the death of civilians.  Yet we must never lose sight of the fact that the loss of every life is a tragedy. The defence of our people justifies us killing those who attempt to kill us. The collateral death of innocents is a tragic consequence of every war in history but we must never desensitize ourselves to the taking of any human life.

The late Golda Meir put it well when she said: “When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”

We pray for peace with every fibre of our being.

Oseh Shalom Bimromav Hu Ya’ase Shalom Alenu Ve’al Kol Yisrael Ve’imru Amen.