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    At the tent door – Vayyera

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

    Abraham was sitting at his tent door (Gen. 18:1) though it was noon, the sun was hot, and the patriarch was still convalescing after his circumcision.

    But travellers might pass by, and Abraham did not want to miss the opportunity of offering hospitality.

    Yet God, said the Midrash, thought Abraham was being too hard on himself, so He made the sun so fierce that travellers would seek shelter somewhere else.

    Nonetheless, Abraham was so upset at the lack of visitors that God had to take pity on him and sent him three angels in human form.

    Abraham’s insistence on having guests in his home has been echoed over the centuries by Jews who vied with each other to take wayfarers home from the synagogue.

    Not only for the benefit of the wayfarers themselves, but because visitors, especially on Shabbat and festivals, brought with them new melodies, new customs, new interpretations of Torah… and, in days before mass media, news too.

    What was happening in other places, communities and synagogues was a source of infinite fascination to other Jews.

    It still is, and nothing is as colourful and lively a window into the Jewish world than the visitors one takes home. What a pity it is that occasionally a traveller reports back to his or her own community that the synagogue they visited was cold, unfriendly and indifferent.

    Giving wayfarers a welcome helps to break down barriers of intolerance; Disraeli said that travel teaches toleration.

    From the Jewish point of view, visiting another community or hosting a visitor from one, demonstrates that Jewish life is not and never was monolithic.

    If you are Ashkenazi, you discover that Sephardim honour their customs just as enthusiastically as you honour yours. If you are Chassidic, you discover that non-Chassidim also have a rich, lively store of minhagim, neither more authentic (nor less) than your own.

    Some people cut their Sabbath challah, some people tear it. Some people pronounce Hebrew this way, some pronounce it that way.

    There is no justification for doubting or denigrating the way others do things.

    We are a diverse, wondrous people, yet part of each other; and we should never let ourselves forget it.

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