We’ve all experienced the annoyance of being put “on hold.” We want to speak with someone and we have to wait. Sometimes, to add insult to injury, we have to listen to Muzak while we wait.
I do not like call-waiting for this reason. If I am speaking to you, I want to give you my full attention. I think it is rude to put the first person on hold to see if I would rather speak to the second person.
Imagine if I were speaking to the President of the United States on the telephone, and another call came through. Would I interrupt? Of course not. What could be more important?
Which is why it is so surprising that in this week’s Torah portion of VaYera, we find the following situation. Abraham was being visited by G-d, when he saw three strangers approaching. He said to G-d, “My L-rd, if it please You, do not go on past your servant.” (Genesis 18:3)
One interpretation of this verse suggests that Abraham was speaking to Hashem and he put Him on hold in order to show them hospitality. From here, the Talmud derives the saying “greater than the reception of G-d is the mitzvah of welcoming guests.” (Shabbat 127a)
Abraham’s rationale was that when we care for each other with kindness and generosity, we get a double dividend. We honor both our fellow human being and G-d. When we honor another peerson, we are also honoring that other person’s Creator.
Rather than showing disrespect for G-d, Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers was the greatest respect for G-d. Whenever we care for G-d’s children, we are following the shining example of our forefather Abraham.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)