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Hachnasat Orchim, Welcoming Guests

By Batya Medad
5/13/2009, 12:00 AM

As I write this the circus surrounding the catholic pope’s visit to Israel is at the peak of hysteria. I believe that all Jews, especially Israelis, whether “officially” religious or not, know the importance of the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, Welcoming Guests.

So, if that’s so, why are so many of us appalled, embarrassed and worse at the enthusiastic welcome the State of Israel and its media have granted the goyishe religious leader?

We’re taught that the great Avraham Avinu, Our Forefather Abraham, even got up on the third day after his Brit Milah, circumcision, to welcome some strangers trudging by his tent.

So isn’t the generous reception of the pope comparable? My answer is “no,” plain and simple. Let’s stay in Bereishit, Genesis, and compare Avraham’s Hachnasat Orchim with Lot’s.

Avraham saw three unexpected strangers, hot, dehydrated exhausted. Instinctively, mindless of his own pain, he ran to help them.

וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם. 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; ב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה. 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, ג וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ--אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ. 3 and said: 'My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. ד יֻקַּח-נָא מְעַט-מַיִם, וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם; וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ, תַּחַת הָעֵץ. 4 Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree.

The pope did not arrive as an exhausted unexpected traveler. The State of Israel has been begging him to visit for years, and Israel has given all sorts of gifts to the pope. “Peres gave him two gifts: a nano-Bible – the entire 24 books of the Bible, from Genesis to Chronicles, written on a chip no bigger than a grain of sand - and a painting of a Menorah (candelabrum). Arutz 7,” but although I googled, searching everywhere, I found no reference to any gifts from the pope.

Avraham’s guests were angels, disguised as wanderers, and they had a special gift for Avraham and Sarah, a promise from G-d that they would have a biological son, who would carry on their religion and inherit the leadership.

Israel’s behavior towards the pope reminds me more of Lot’s version of Hachnasat Orchim.

Genesis Chapter 19 א וַיָּבֹאוּ שְׁנֵי הַמַּלְאָכִים סְדֹמָה, בָּעֶרֶב, וְלוֹט, יֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר-סְדֹם; וַיַּרְא-לוֹט וַיָּקָם לִקְרָאתָם, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַפַּיִם אָרְצָה. 1 And the two angels came to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; and Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them; and he fell down on his face to the earth; ב וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֶּה נָּא-אֲדֹנַי, סוּרוּ נָא אֶל-בֵּית עַבְדְּכֶם וְלִינוּ וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם, וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּם, וַהֲלַכְתֶּם לְדַרְכְּכֶם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹּא, כִּי בָרְחוֹב נָלִין. 2 and he said: 'Behold now, my lords, turn aside, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your way.' And they said: 'Nay; but we will abide in the broad place all night.' ג וַיִּפְצַר-בָּם מְאֹד--וַיָּסֻרוּ אֵלָיו, וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ; וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה, וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ. 3 And he urged them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. ד טֶרֶם, יִשְׁכָּבוּ, וְאַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר אַנְשֵׁי סְדֹם נָסַבּוּ עַל-הַבַּיִת, מִנַּעַר וְעַד-זָקֵן: כָּל-הָעָם, מִקָּצֶה. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. ה וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֶל-לוֹט וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ, אַיֵּה הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ הַלָּיְלָה; הוֹצִיאֵם אֵלֵינוּ, וְנֵדְעָה אֹתָם. 5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him: 'Where are the men that came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.' ו וַיֵּצֵא אֲלֵהֶם לוֹט, הַפֶּתְחָה; וְהַדֶּלֶת, סָגַר אַחֲרָיו. 6 And Lot went out unto them to the door, and shut the door after him. ז וַיֹּאמַר: אַל-נָא אַחַי, תָּרֵעוּ. 7 And he said: 'I pray you, my brethren, do not so wickedly. ח הִנֵּה-נָא לִי שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּ אִישׁ--אוֹצִיאָה-נָּא אֶתְהֶן אֲלֵיכֶם, וַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶן כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶם; רַק לָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵל, אַל-תַּעֲשׂוּ דָבָר, כִּי-עַל-כֵּן בָּאוּ, בְּצֵל קֹרָתִי. 8 Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof.'

It’s more like “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Lot tried to be like Abraham, but when things became difficult, he offered his virgin daughters to pacify the attackers. Those were the same daughters who later got him drunk and then seduced him when he was in a drunken stupor, so that they would have children and the world wouldn’t die out. They too paved their road to hell with good intentions.

That’s the best way of describing the political leadership of the State of Israel, followers of Lot and not Abraham. And anyone who must travel in Jerusalem can also describe all the roadwork as Hell, paved with good intentions.

And talking of roads, we must not give up.

Kall ha’olam kulo, gesher tzar me’od,
The entire world is nothing but a narrow bridge,
and we must never fear,
never!