This week’s parshah is Parshat Vayeira, which teaches the message of inclusion as Avraham and Sarah welcome three guests into their home.
Avraham runs out to greet the guests וירץ אברהם לראתם and both Avraham and Sarah work together to prepare them a meal.
The mitzvah of הכנסת אורחים (hakhnasat orkhim/“welcoming guests”) is a very important mitzvah. At Heschel, we have always taken seriously the middah to “be welcoming.”
We strive to welcome others into our play and games. We say: “Would you like to join us in our game?” or “Have you ever played this before? Here, I’ll show you.” We find ways to make sure that our friends and classmates feel included.
We take extra care not to exclude people because of their gender, choice of clothing, hairstyle, way of speaking, or anything else about them that may be unique.
If someone is new to Heschel or to our class, we make a special effort to include them. Everyone is part of our community, whether they have been here since JK or are new to the school.
We are fortunate to have a parent body that works hard to reinforce these messages at home. Parents have asked what makes a successful social environment in the classroom. While no single factor can account for positive class culture, over the years we have noticed that, from a social perspective, the most successful classes are created when people feel included.
Social inclusion creates social cohesion. Social exclusion leads to hurt feelings and barriers that are difficult to traverse. This applies both to children and parents. No one likes to feel left out.
Our school is a tight-knit community; the social dynamics of the classroom depend greatly upon what happens outside of its walls.
When it comes to social inclusion, the question of class parties often comes up. We avoid holding class parties on Shabbat or Chaggim because this would exclude people in our community. We are careful not to create “in” and “out” groups. We make sure that no single individual or individuals are left feeling that they were not included.
Children notice social exclusion from a very young age. What we as adults may be able to rationalize, children take to heart and remember. It takes extra thought to design social events that are inclusive; doing so may also require us to compromise around our initial vision. But when we look at the big picture, we realize that being inclusive has long-term implications for our relationships and community.
According to a verse in the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59a), all the gates of appeal to heaven are locked, except for the gate of hurt feelings, caused by exclusion. When we observe the mitzvah of הכנסת אורחים, and the middah to be welcoming, we are inclusive and enter into the realm of the Holy.
This Shabbat, may we consider ways to be welcoming and inclusive.