by Heather Renetzky
I absolutely LOVE cooking. From zucchini bread to tacos, whether in cooking chug or solo, I never tire of clanging pots and pans or the beep of the oven timer. For me, the joy in cooking comes from being able to share food with others. Feeding people is my favorite way to demonstrate hospitality, something that Abraham and I seem to have in common.
Parashat Vayera, Abraham goes into frantic “hospitality mode” when angels (appearing as perfectly normal people) appear at his tent. A man after my own heart, he welcomes the guests by asking Sarah to prepare way too much food. He says: “Quick! Three seahs of choice flour! Knead and make cakes!” (Gen. 18:6). 3 seahs of flour is approximately 8 pounds. In other words, he’s asking Sarah to make about 8 loaves of bread—for three people! Abraham goes above and beyond to make sure that these visitors feel at home, really welcoming them in.
Yet, despite my appreciation for Abraham’s over-the-top hospitality, I don’t think he’s the best role model of welcome for me. When he addresses Sarah, telling her to quickly, “knead and make cakes,” he doesn’t so much as address her by name. There’s no “hello,” no “how are you,” no, “Hey, these three guests just arrived and I’m freaking out over here!” In his effort to show love and care for his guests, he forgets some basic manners for his own wife.
I will admit that I too, have fallen into this trap. There have been countless dinners where in my frenzied eagerness to bake 8 loaves of bread for 3 people (or the equivalent), I’ve failed to take care of myself, and have hangerly (hunger+anger) snapped at a housemate or friend. In my eagerness to be hospitable, I sometimes need to stop and ask myself, “What can I really offer,” and “How can I do so in a sustainable way?”
These days, Covid has kept me from hosting others in my home, but I find that this balancing act is still just as, if not more, relevant. While we may feel Zoom’d out or a little more stressed than normal, we can stop and ask ourselves—What’s really possible? Maybe I don’t have the capacity to ding-dong-ditch cookies on everyone’s doorstep, but I can bake a cake for a friend’s birthday. Maybe I can’t send snail-mail Shabbat-o-grams to every single camp friend every week, but I can send a few here and there. In the weeks and months ahead, may we all set bars that we can reach and reach out to those we love.