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Knowing our limits

ציור של אוהל אברהם אבינו
ציור: יואל וקסברגר, מלכות וקסברגר

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Where should we set our limits? Avraham Avinu is our teacher when it comes to lovingkindness. For thousands of years, both adults and children have learned from this week's Torah portion about Avraham's special brand of hospitality, about his tent that was open on all sides to every passerby, about his running after three strangers in the desert just to give them food and drink.

Amidst this otherworldly hospitality, an important detail may be lost: Avraham asks his guests to wash their feet before entering his tent. Rashi explains that Avraham thought his guests were idol worshipers who bowed down to the dust on their feet and he had to make sure they would not bring the stuff of idol worship, however minute, into his home.

There is a powerful message here about setting limits: on the one hand, knowing how to draw others close but, on the other, knowing when to draw apart; on the one hand, giving, caring, being inclusive and loving, with openness to the entire world but, on the other, having no confusion in setting clear and strict boundaries, knowing when to hold back and exercise caution. Thus, even the dust of idolatry could not find its way into the tent of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu.

Here, Avraham teaches us not only that lovingkindness is of the highest value, but that helping others and fixing the world has its limits. Each person is invited to think about where they set their limits.


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