Be My Guest
I know too many people who spend a fortune on decorating and renovating their homes. They shuttle in designers from other states, then bring in the bulldozers, build extensions, cedar closets, steam rooms, top it off with crown moldings, granite counters, imported marble from Italy and furniture from France. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that. But the problem is that after they’ve designed their castle in the sky, they don’t let anyone into their homes. Their front doormat reads, “Not Welcome.” There is no true hospitality other than their showing-off party and the eat-your-heart-out tour that’s catered with cold crudités and even colder hearts.
Is your newly beautified home or old one hosting Shabbat and holiday dinners and open to those who have no place to go, people going through a hard time, who are lonely, abandoned, down-and-out or poor? Do the disenfranchised have a place at your table? Does G-d? For whom are you expanding your empire when in fact, most of the time, you find your comfy corner and spend your time in that same place. You focus on your laptop or cell phone with your head and heart far away from the miles of new tiles you’ve just laid down.
We learn the proper example to follow from our forefather Abraham. His tents were open on all sides so that people coming from any direction would have an open door and be warmly greeted. For not only is it necessary to fulfill our guests’ s physical needs, but even more so, their emotional need of feeling welcomed and wanted. Not doing so is a serious transgression. If a guest leaves your house with a generous “doggy bag” but in tears or shame, it’s better to give the treats to a dog until you learn how to be a mensch. Abraham was greatly blessed for seeing the humanity and G-dliness in each person and treating even strangers exceptionally well.
In contrast to Abraham, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they were averse to hospitality, so much so, that their inhabitants would kill their neighbors if they extended kindness to strangers. If an unfortunate person would find shelter in their midst, they’d be given the S&G treatment: if they were too tall to fit in a bed, their legs would be cut off, and if they were too short, they’d be cruelly stretched. No matter what their size, guests did not fit into the Sodom and Gomorrah mentality.
I’m not trying to put any decorators out of business. For we learn in this week’s Torah reading that G-d Himself is a great designer. In fact, numerous parshiot in the Torah deal with G-d’s very specific instructions as to how to design, measure and decorate the Tabernacle, its vessels and accessories. From acacia wood to pure gold overlays, to cooper and silver and curtains, down to the detail and moldings, G-d too loves His house down here on earth. And He wants it the way He wants it, as His supernal blueprint has reverberations and impact beyond our limited comprehension.
But the one thing we can understand with our limited comprehension is that the focus of the Tabernacle was not its gilded grandeur, but rather, it was a place to inspire service of the heart, devotion and awe. It was a place constructed on earth as a dwelling place for the Divine.
Our own homes too, whether they be simple or sumptuous, are also meant to be a dwelling place for G-d. But, when we ignore that truth, and evict G-d to make room for foreign imports, the walls come crashing down and if not physically then with business problems, health issues, or family discord. “And if it displeases you to serve the L-rd, choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we shall serve the L-rd." (Joshua 24:15)
How are you using your home, its contents and your possessions to serve G-d? When was the last time you used your car to offer a lift to a senior citizen standing at the bus stop? Have you prayed over the bread that’s on your table? Are your Mikasa dishes kosher? Are the walls in your home witnesses to prayers or gossip? Beware, for one day they will testify about all your conversations.
Does your kitchen counter have a charity box on it, or only a repurposed can with emergency cash? Have you only uplifted your spirits with fancy scented candles or have you struck a match to light Shabbat candles? It takes the same amount of time, but even after these holy Shabbat wicks die, the mitzvah will glow eternally. We know how to maximize the returns on our financial investments. In what way do we use our blessings to earn more blessings and to make our lives an altar to G-d?
The three Hebrew letters on your front door mezuzah are Shin, Dalet, Yud. They stand for Shomer Daltot Yisrael, the Guardian of the doors of Israel. They also spell one of G-d’s Ineffable Names. But as that beautiful mezuzah is angled to point toward your home, are you really deserving of G-d’s protection? Would He want to enter? What in your home and behavior therein is sanctifying Him and His name that would give Him incentive to even want to do anything for you? Forget market value, when G-d assess your home, would it hold any true worth at all according to His criteria? Is it a Jewish home or a home filled with Jews?
Some say home is where the heart is. But if G-d and His will do not dwell among you, what kind of heart do you really have?