For something truly extraordinary to happen, we must include the people already inside the tent.
In Vayeira I see an important message about inclusivity, but it’s not what you think. Everyone looks at Abraham’s hospitality, running to the three men and offering rest, food and drink, and honor. But it is only when Sara comes from the tent that the great miracle of prophecy occurs. This is a most important message for us in these changing times.
We properly reach out to people outside our tent in an effort to practice inclusivity and outreach. But as we reach out we must also reach within to make sure that those already within the tent feel equally honored and valued.
People regularly leave the synagogue community because they no longer find anything there for them. Parents leave once the child has been “Bar-Mitzvahed” and Boomers leave because they do not see value in belonging. But helping to develop a child’s value system and sense of community has only just begun with Bar-Mitzvah, and finding support in a caring community is never more important than when we confront the challenges of middle age and beyond. Our synagogues are as important as ever, but destined to struggle with membership (and finances) if we do not find ways to communicate a value proposition that resonates for those already in the tent. Those front doors we want to fling open to welcome newcomers are also open to those looking to leave. We need to help them understand why they would want to stay.
Sara prepared the cakes to serve the messengers and standing at the tent’s opening, she scoffed with incredulity at the vision the men proclaimed. Our congregants too find the future difficult to accept, but it is our sacred task to give them a vision of an extended family and the caring community they are unable to imagine for themselves. As we seek to evolve and broaden our reach, we must always remember to continuously nurture those who have already aligned with us so they continue to embrace our important values and keep our tent full.