One of the things that I love about Judaism is its occasional irreverence.

In this week’s Torah portion, on the third day after Abraham’s circumcision, G‑d visited him to alleviate his pain. The weather was particularly hot, to prevent traveling wayfarers from disturbing Abraham. But the hospitable, gregarious Abraham sat at the opening of his tent distressed by a lack of visitors, and so G‑d sent him three angels disguised as humans. Abraham ran to serve his visitors.

Abraham says to G‑d: “My L‑rd! If I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away, I beg you, from your servant.”1

Rashi provides two explanations for this verse:

  1. Abraham was addressing the most prominent of his guests, asking him and the others not to pass by his tent without availing themselves of his hospitality; and
  2. Abraham was addressing G‑d, asking Him to stand by while he fed his guests.

I find the second explanation fascinating.

The Talmud further expounds: “Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: This teaches us that taking in guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence.”2

Imagine the following scenario during ancient times of dictators or despots.

Your monarch—the mightiest, most powerful ruler in the world, who can decide your fate at whim—has honored you with his personal visit. Standing in his glorious audience, you notice homeless stragglers who look like they could use a hot meal and a shower. Only a deranged individual would excuse himself in order to care for these nomads.

Or, in more contemporary terms:

After months of effort and using all your connections, you’ve managed to secure a meeting with a powerful businessman who can change the course of your career. As you begin your pitch, your cell phone rings and the caller ID informs you that an unknown telemarketer is on the line. You’d have to be an unstable fool to ask this wealthy magnate to hold on while you take the call.

And yet, that was precisely what Abraham did. The King of Kings personally came to visit him, and he asked Him to wait while he prepared some tongue with mustard to feed strangers!

But suppose those straggling nomads or that irritating telemarketer was actually not some unidentified stranger, but the son of your monarch or the daughter of your wealthy magnate, who for whatever reason is requesting your assistance. The scenario changes entirely; the foolhardy act of impudence becomes the greatest act of compassion.

The Talmud is teaching us that every human being is a child of G‑d. And just as every parent would forego personal honor and willingly wait while you tend to his or her child, this, too, is G‑d’s greatest pleasure.

As for Judaism’s impudence, sometimes apparent disrespect, masks the greatest reverence.