Our Voices (HaKolot Shelanu)

Opening Our Tents

By: Rochelle Reich, Executive Director

Love all people and draw them nearer to the Torah – Pirkei Avot (1:12)

One of our early learnings from Abraham and Sarah is steeped in the concepts of hospitality and openness. Their tent was open on all four sides to be inviting, and Abraham would go outside of his tent to find guests to invite inside. As someone with a previous career in the hospitality industry, I find this to be one of my favorite stories from the Torah (Who do we know who starts off regularly by saying this is one of my favorite stories from the Torah?). The importance that God places on welcoming the stranger and how we treat our guests is emphasized in several places in our liturgy. It’s a core value of Judaism.

So why then, do we sometimes struggle so hard with how to treat those that we already know? Why is it so easy for us to not consider the damage that we do when we are dismissive of those that we don’t welcome? How easy has it become to forget what it feels like to be the outsider?

In an article written by Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D. that was published in eJewish Philanthropy several years ago, he says … a cursory familiarity with a page of Talmud or a reading of just about any period of Jewish history will tell you that disagreement is normal. So why is it that we are surprised or even shocked to find that not all of us feel the same way about things that are important to us? It’s part of our cultural and religious DNA to ask questions, discuss (perhaps argue?). And yet, somehow there has been a shift. We say things like we can agree to disagree but we don’t really mean it. When we find ourselves in conversation with people that we don’t agree with, we find it easier to walk away and be dismissive – the exact opposite of keeping an open tent. I know that I’ve been guilty of this at times. Have you? Today we call this cancel culture. This divisive behavior is so commonplace that our society has even named it. Rabbi Herring further shares “Dissent and differences are beneficial because they broaden our thinking about issues. Our noble opponents shed light on aspects of issues that our blind spots cover. They also remind us that there are many good people in the world who hold different opinions from us, and engaging with them helps us avoid the trap of stereotyping everyone who holds different views from us as somehow deplorable.

We all have blind spots, and I believe that we do ourselves and our society a grave injustice when we insist that we don’t. We do an even greater injustice to those around us whom we alienate when we don’t opt to open up our tent flaps wider and draw others and ourselves closer to Torah.

My hope for all of us, is that we continue to remind ourselves that while Judaism does encourage challenging discussions, it places a far higher value on acts of loving-kindness. May we all have the strength to prioritize our wide-open tents over proving a point.

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Our Voices features the insights and thoughts of  CBI members and guests. Topics include, but are not limited to, personal insights on the weekly Torah portion, thoughts about community, Jewish identity, culture and more. We welcome your thoughts.  If you wish to contribute, please send your blog post to alan@alansilverman.com, along with any pictures you'd like to include. Thanks and we look forward to sharing your thoughts with the CBI community.