Vayera - Stranger Anxiety

by Rabbi Shefa Gold


The Blessing

The first word of the Parsha tells us that God has appeared. As a seeker of direct connection with the Divine, my heart leaps at this amazing event and I look for it in my life. We are blessed this week with a vision of God who comes to us in the form of three strangers. Our attentiveness to these strangers will determine the extent of our blessing. If we are ready (which means our hearts are open) – our eyes are watching for opportunities to serve, our humility is intact, and we have the energies and resources to express the natural flow of generosity in us – then we will be given hope, and the fulfillment of our deepest desires.

This openness to seeing God in the form of "the stranger" is rewarded abundantly. In contrast we are given the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, places that represent hatred of the stranger. When God shares with our ancestor the terrible consequences of this hatred, we are meant to share in the wisdom, to learn from the tragedy. When inhospitality and meanness rule, and the stranger is not honored, then Divine Presence is unrecognized and inaccessible. Without that radiating presence which holds the world together, everything will collapse.


In receiving the blessing of Vayera, we are both the one who banishes the stranger, and the stranger herself. In learning to welcome the guest, to open our heart to the one who is different, the best tool we have is our memory of being the stranger. This memory moves us eventually to a re-integration of those two parts of ourselves. Much later in the story, Abraham takes another wife named Keturah, which means spice. The midrash says that she is Hagar, returning, the-stranger-welcomed-home. She is transformed from being a bitter desperate stranger to being a source of sweet fragrance. Welcoming her back allows us the blessing of seeing God once more.

The Spiritual Challenge

Standing at the door of our tent, our first challenge is to remain alert, attentive and open to the opportunities for service, not to just watch them passively, but to run towards them with eagerness and joy. To take this stance towards life means that I must do whatever it takes to be a clear channel for Divine Love. For me that means giving a lot of attention to self-nurturance – the right food, exercise, rest, meditation, play. The challenge is to love and take care of myself enough to be as effective an instrument I can be in serving others.

The stranger is not always easy to serve. She may be cruel, ungrateful, unresponsive to your kindness. His manners may offend you. The challenge is to stay true to the spirit of service and to look for the Divine Mystery in every encounter even if we are not being perceived or received in the way we’d like.

And when we are cast out and treated like a stranger, our challenge is remain steadfast in our seeking of allies, and to avoid becoming bitter. Eventually our eyes will be opened to the well of living waters that was always before us.

Guidance for Practice

Invite someone to your home. It may be a stranger, a friend who you don’t know well, or an acquaintance. You can ask a friend to bring a friend of theirs along. Remember that welcoming "The Guest" is a spiritual practice that takes skill, style, creativity, concentration, and sustained open-heartedness. In your encounter, be aware of the Mysterious Presence that enters your home when you act with graciousness and generosity. Bow inwardly to that Presence as you serve "The Guest."
Listen for the message that your guest brings.