FRIDAY, August 24th

his week we read about the prohibition on ever intermarrying with the Ammonites and Moabites “because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt, and because they hired Balaam, son of Beor, from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse you.” (Devarim 23:5) While the Egyptians, who actually enslaved us for centuries and oppressed us violently are allowed to convert to Judaism and marry into the Jewish people eventually, and are even singled out for a special prohibition  against “abhorring” them (ibid, verse 8), the Moabites and Ammonites are permanently excluded when it seems their only crimes were a lack of hospitality and a failed attempt to curse us.  Rashi explains that the reason the Egyptians are not to be abhorred, while the Moabites and Ammonites are, is because unlike the Moabites and Ammonites, who refused to give us food and water, the Egyptians took us in and provided for us when we were hungry.  However badly they may have treated us subsequently, their initial kindness is not to be forgotten.

It seems from this that the failure to share food and water is a crime greater even than violent oppression, or that, conversely, hospitality is so great a virtue, that it can overshadow the most heinous crimes.  We know that one of the salient characteristics of the city of Sodom, for which it was punished with fire from heaven was selfishness and an antipathy to hospitality.  The ethos of Sodom, according to Pirkei Avot was “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.”  A society without kindness cannot survive, any more than a society without justice.  Tellingly, Lot and his daughters, the ancestors of the inhospitable Ammonites and Moabites, were refugees from the city of Sodom, spared from the fate of their neighbors by the merit of Lot’s hospitality (and his kinship to the famously hospitable Avraham and Sarah).

During the fast-approaching holiday season, let us ensure that our own celebrations reflect the values of our ancestors Avraham and Sarah, and not (God forbid) those of the Ammonites and Moabites.  I strongly encourage everyone who is planning a holiday meal to make sure the guest lists include not only family and close friends, but newcomers and outsiders, especially those who might not otherwise have a holiday meal to go to.  To facilitate this, if you have extra space at your Yom Tov table, or if you are seeking hospitality yourself, I encourage you to let me know, and we will try and match people appropriately.