(And He Appeared)
Abraham is visited by three strangers who announce that he and Sarah will birth a son in their old age. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed.
THE FIRST WORD OF THE PORTION tells us that God has appeared. As a seeker of direct connection with the Divine, my heart leaps at the idea of this amazing event and I look for that revelation in my own life. We are blessed this week with a vision of God who comes to us in the form of three strangers.
Our attentiveness to these strangers will determine the extent of our blessing. If we are ready with open hearts, our eyes are watching for opportunities to serve, if our humility is intact, and we have the energies and resources to express the natural flow of our generosity — then we will be given hope, and the fulfillment of our deepest desires. This openness to seeing God in the form of “the stranger” is rewarded abundantly.
IN STARK CONTRAST, we are presented with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, places that represent hatred of the stranger. When God shares with our ancestor the imminent, terrible consequences of this hatred, we are meant to share in the wisdom, to learn from the tragedy.
When inhospitality and meanness rule, and the stranger is not honored, then Divine Presence is unrecognized and inaccessible. When that radiating presence which holds the world together is obscured, everything collapses.
EVEN THOUGH WE WITNESS THIS TRAGEDY, and learn the redemptive truth of how love for the stranger is a requirement for theophany, this same drama must unfold within our very own family. The lesson comes home.
The name Hagar means “the stranger.” She repreesents the stranger in our midst. When we cast Hagar out into the wilderness (1), her offspring becomes our enemy. When the stranger is banished, our opportunity for seeing God is squandered. The ability to see God passes instead to the stranger, to Hagar. At the moment of deepest desapir, “God opened her eyes.” (2) She is blessed with a vision of God who appears as the living waters of life.
IN RECEIVING THE BLESSING of Vayera, we are both the one who banishes the stranger, and the stranger herself. In finding the compassion to welcome the guest, to open our heart to the one who is different, the best tool we have is our memory of being the stranger ourselves. This memory moves us eventually to a re-integration of those two parts within us, the banisher and the banished.
Much later in the story, Abraham takes another wife named Keturah, which means “spice”. The midrash says that this new wife is Hagar, returning, the-stranger-welcomed-home. She is transformed from being a bitter, desperate stranger to being a source of sweet fragrance.
Welcoming Hagar back into our hearts bestows on us the blessing of seeing God once more.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
STANDING AT THE DOOR OF OUR TENT, our first challenge is to remain alert, attentive and open to opportunities for service. We can’t just stand by and watch passively as life ges by; we must run to meet each moment with eagerness and joy.
To take this stance towards life means that I must do whatever it takes to be a clear channel for Divine Love. For me that means giving a lot of attention to self-nurturance — the right food, exercise, rest, meditation, play. The challenge is to love and take care of myself enough to be as effective an instrument I can be in serving others.
The stranger is not always easy to serve. She may be cruel, ungrateful, even unresponsive to your kindness. His manners may offend you. The challenge is to stay true to the spirit of service and to look for the Divine Mystery in every encounter, even if we are not being perceived or received in the way we’d like.
And when we, in our turn, are cast out and treated like a stranger, our challenge is remain steadfast in our search for allies, and to avoid becoming bitter. Eventually, our eyes will be opened to the well of living waters that is ever before us, however obscured.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
INVITE SOMEONE to your home. It may be a stranger, a friend who you don’t know well, or an acquaintance. You can ask a friend to bring a friend of theirs along. Remember that welcoming “The Guest” is a spiritual practice that takes skill, style, creativity, concentration, and sustained open-heartedness.
IN YOUR ENCOUNTER, be aware of the Mysterious Presence that enters your home when you act with graciousness and generosity. Bow inwardly to that Presence as you serve “The Guest.”
BE OPEN to any special message that your guest may bring to you.
1 Genesis 21:10
2 Genesis 21:19
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.