We preface the seder with an invitation to guests.
We are taught in the Ethics of the Fathers; “Simeon the righteius says that the world rests on three pillars: On Torah, on avodah (sacrifice, worship), and gemelut chasadim – acts of loving kindness” (1:2). All three are required for the world to deserve survival.
The rabbis point out that there is a striking correspondence between these three fundamental requirements and the number of patriarchs who served as founders of our faith. Before beginning the story of the 12 children of Israel and the creation of the Jewish people we were given three paradigms of spiritual greatness, each one of whom epitomized to perfection one of the traits singled out by the Mishnah.
Abraham’s greatness rested in his concern for others, his acts of loving kindness. The very first thing we learn about him after he entered into his covenant with God by way of circumcision is that “he sat in the door of his tent in the heat of the day” (Genesis 18:1) waiting for an opportunity to host any strangers who might be passing by. His life teaches us the true meaning of loving kindness .
Isaac, who understood that his father was taking him to be sacrificed as an offering to God, willingly accepted his fate and was prepared to give up his life to fulfill a divine command, no matter how incomprehensible. He is the paradigm of Avodah, service .
Jacob “sat in the tents” (Genesis 25:27) which the rabbis identified as the schools of Shem and Ever, studying the Torah traditions that were transmitted even before the Revelation at Sinai. From their lives we were privileged to witness magnificent illustrations of the three ideals of the Mishnah.
The day when Abraham welcomed the three strangers – in reality angels, but perceived as passing Arab travelers – would many years later, by a remarkable “coincidence” of the calendar, become celebrated as Passover. Indeed, according to the Midrash, Abraham with divine intuition observed this holiday years before it was given to the Jewish people!
In a sense, Passover is Abraham’s holiday. Just as Abraham was deeply moved to intercede in order to prevent the pain and suffering of fellow human beings, God too intervened to redeem the Jews from the slavery in Egypt. The predominant characteristic of kindness which marked our founding father was more than matched by the divine compassion demonstrated by our father in heaven at the time of the Exodus.
How fitting therefore that the Seder takes note of this link by having us emulate Abraham’s invitation to strangers.
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