Ritz-Carlton Service – October 18 Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz – If I were to say that someone offers “Ritz-Carlton Service,” what would that mean to you?…

Right.   Top-notch!  Caring!

Herve Hunter, the President and Chief Operations Officer of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain, insists that every one of the individuals who work for them has to carry a wallet-sized credo card with them at all times.  It states their three-steps of service:

  1.  Extend a warm welcome
  2. Anticipate and fulfill stated and unstated needs
  3. Provide a fond farewell

In Judaism, we call this “hachnassat or’chim,” welcoming the stranger, and, while Ritz-Carlton gets modern day credits for this kind of hospitality, it’s really an ancient imperative, a mitzvah, that is introduced in Genesis, and is in this week’s parashah, VaYera.

As you may recall, Abraham, our patriarch, was circumcised…the sign of the covenant….at the biblical age of 99.  On the third day, following that procedure, G-d did Bikkur Cholim, a sick call.  Now this is rather unusual, as one does not expect G-d to visit, but evidently there was no other agenda on tap….no commands, no directives.  Of course, we learn from this that it is our responsibility to do Bikkur Cholim, visiting the sick.  And this is something we learn by emulating the divine example.

We learn by example from what happens next, as well, although it is even more puzzling.  Although Abraham is communing with G-d, three strangers approach his tent, and he has to make a decision.  Does he remain with G-d, the Almighty, the Melech Mal’chei HaM’lachim and ignore the strangers or should he put G-d on “hold” and offer hospitality to the three strangers?  What would you do?

Well, our Torah tells us that he ran (ouch) to greet the strangers.  He gave them “Ritz-Carlton” service and, from this we learn that offering hospitality to strangers is of extreme importance.   The Talmud underscores this, but how did Abraham know, seemingly instinctively, what the right course of action was?

When Abraham turned to the strangers, he wasn’t really turning away from G-d.  G-d is experienced on many levels, and the holiness that exemplified Abraham elevated him from experiencing G-d on one level to experiencing him on another level.  Selflessness—doing for others.

Another story.  I remember as a child, the wonderful sederim our family had.  My mother (z”l) cooked up a magnificent feast; my father (z”l) conducted the seder and we always had great songs and stimulating conversations.  One year (actually this happened more than once), one of our guests accidentally spilled his wine cup on the tablecloth.  Without missing a beat, my dad tipped over his wine cup.  In his action he saved the guest from bearing the brunt of the embarrassing faux pas.  From my father’s example, I learned the importance of helping to prevent embarrassment.

In this parashah we also hear of the story of Sodom and Gemorrah, and that also deals with hospitality….or more accurately, the total lack of it.  The sin of Sodom and Gemorrah was their complete disregard for others and their lack, actually abhorrence, of Chesed (loving-kindness).  Strangers were not just unwelcome, but the entire ideology of their society was corrupt and utterly selfish.  From the negative traits of Sodom and Gemorrah and from the positive examples of Abraham, we learn the importance

Why do I tell you these stories?

Because, we learn in many ways—certainly by rules and regulations (such as we find in VaYikra (Leviticus) and D’varim (Deuteronomy); but the narratives and stories, the allegories and poetry found throughout the TaNaKh, and particularly in B’reishit (Genesis), Sh’mot (Exodus), B’Midbar (Numbers) and in the Megillot reach us on another level and teach us by example…both positive and negative.

Hopefully we were blessed to have parents who modeled good behavior, who gave us the moral compass to become who we are.  But I know people who come from abusive homes, yet rise above what they saw to become fine adults.  Hopefully, we were blessed with exemplary rabbis and teachers.  I grew up thinking that all rabbis were wonderful, caring, knowledgeable individuals, and wished to emulate them.  I learned that, sadly, of course, rabbis being human, can make poor choices….and we learn from both those who are wise and those who make poor choices.  I can remember saying, I’d go to a particularly wonderful Chazzan’s class, if only to see how he tied his shoes?  How blessed are we to be aware of those in our midst who can teach us simply by the way they conduct their own lives!

But back to the Ritz-Carlton service that Abraham extended to the strangers, because I believe that applies to all of us at Congregation P’nai Tikvah….and hopefully to each of us within our own homes.  How happy are we to see and greet each other and the strangers in our midst when they arrive, to share our thoughts, prayers, and Onegai Shabbat with them, and how we hope they will return.  How we yearn to make people feel comfortable and at home with us….and this is as it should be.  Unwittingly we are emulating Abraham’s hachnassat orchim, and fulfilling our mission as Abraham’s descendants, and, yes, we are reaching a higher level in the service of G-d.

We learn from our parents, our ancestors and from one-another.  We aspire, not for recognition or kudos, but for the holiness.  May we all consciously take on the traits of hachnassat orchim, welcoming the stranger, and g’milut chesed, acts of lovingkindness…..and always give “Ritz-Carlton” service.


Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Yocheved Mintz

Congregation P’nai Tikvah

18 October 2013