In the Hebrew scriptures, in the story of Abraham, we read about three strangers who approach Abraham’s tent. He does not greet them with suspicion or fear. He runs to welcome them, sits them down and washes their feet, and prepares a feast for them. The rabbis of Jewish tradition laud him for his hospitality and say his tent was open on all four sides so he could welcome people coming from any direction.
By nature, a religious community should be open and welcoming. We pride ourselves, here, on being friendly. Yes, our door is locked and we have cameras to show us who is coming, but we let in everyone who comes.
Last week in Pittsburgh, 11 people were killed and more were wounded at Tree of Life synagogue. For many, this attack, which was the biggest loss of life in an anti-Semitic attack in this country, in our whole history as a nation, has heightened fear for our own safety.
I do not believe we are less safe than we were before the Pittsburgh attack. Vigilance is important, but we cannot allow this terrorist attack to terrorize us into compromising our hospitality. Does hospitality mean we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in certain ways? Yes. It does. Just as we allow ourselves to be vulnerable every time we trust anyone in our lives, we deliberately allow ourselves to be vulnerable to strangers as religious people and a religious organization, because that openness is how we are able to become a spiritual home for people who need and want one.
The world is a dangerous place. Bad things happen to good people sometimes, and bad things happen to bad people sometimes. Usually, we don’t control whether or when something bad will happen to us. This is frightening. But for life to be worth living, we must have love, community and trust that we will be okay. If something happens and we are not okay, love and community is what takes care of us and our dear ones.
Abraham’s hospitality was crucial to who he was, and ours is crucial to who we are. This amazing community is the result of our willingness to be open and hospitable and loving to all who come here. Let us support each other, let us have trust that we will be okay. The world is often a scary place, and we must not be afraid, as Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav said: “Kol ha-olam kulo/gesher tzar m’od/v’ha-ikar lo l’fached clal.” The entire world is but a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid at all.
I am resolved to do all I can to maintain our community as one in which we welcome everyone with love and trust, not fear and suspicion, no matter what, because if we allow fear and suspicion to win, we are not ourselves anymore.