Rabbi Batsheva Appel
Abraham and Sarah are models of hospitality. Even in his own recovery from circumcision, Abraham is ready to welcome guests. Three “men” appear, and he bows low to the ground, extending hospitality to them. He offers them some shade and water, including water to bathe their feet, and a morsel of bread. They agree to his offer. The 13th century French author of Chizkuni, notes that they are agreeing to the absolute minimum from their host, just some bread. Abraham is a host whose “morsel of bread” is much, much more and he is arranging all the details. In instructing Sarah to bake some cakes, he calls for three measures of the best flour to be used. According to the medieval Spanish commentator Rabbeinu Bachya, in order that each of the guests can have their own cake. He selects a calf from his herds and prepares it to serve to these unexpected visitors. He then serves the visitors a meal of “curds and milk and prepared calf” [Genesis 18:8]. Rabbi David Kimchi, a medieval commentator, suggests that putting these foods before his guests gives them the choice of choosing a dairy meal or a meat meal. Kimchi continues saying that there would be bread and wine for the meal in addition to what is described.
What I love about the description of this meal is the care that both the hosts and the guests are taking. The guests are asking Abraham not to go to too much trouble. As hosts, Abraham and Sarah go all out. Their table has more than just bread and there is the sense that they are offering the finest choices to their guests. The details in the commentaries that each guest will have their own cake or that they will be able to choose between a meat meal or a dairy meal, show the level of detail that can be brought to hospitality, to making someone feel welcome.
Hospitality creates connections and community. When people feel particularly welcome because you have food that they like and can eat, because you bring them into a place that they can navigate, because you make them feel the space is safe, strong connections are formed. People feel seen.
In the Chizkuni, the “men” in their acceptance of Abraham’s offer of hospitality are offering him a blessing that as he is hosting them, may he always have the opportunity to host guests. May each of us have the joy of being a guest at a table like Abraham and Sarah’s as well as welcoming people as did Abraham and Sarah.