Off the Pulpit

A Deep Teaching

A beautiful question-and-answer in the name of the Gerer Rebbe: When strangers come to visit Abraham (Genesis chapter 18), e Torah tells us that Abraham, who was in God’s presence, rushes out to visit the strangers. The Talmud comments on this that we learn it is more important to greet strangers than to bask in the Divine presence.

The Rebbe asked – we learn this lesson from Abraham, but how did Abraham know? How did he have the chutzpah, the audacity, to walk away from God to greet the strangers?

His answer: It is actually because Abraham was in God’s presence that he went to greet them. To feel the Shechina, the Divine presence is to be moved to do a mitzvah. God’s will is expressed in our conduct toward one another.

In the Jewish tradition, devotion to God is less a theological question than a behavioral one. Closeness is exemplified through a life of mitzvot, in prayer that moves one to action, in ritual that is reflected in community and kindness. Abraham was uplifted by encounter to open his home and his heart.