In this weeks parsha, Parshas Lech L'cha, Hashem told Avraham to leave the land he lived in and to go out and travel. Avraham, who excelled in the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, hospitality, would now have to be a guest.
What can we learn from this?
The Torah isn't just a storybook - it is a guide for life. It is here to give us lessons on how to live life today - here and now. It's not just nice stories about our ancestors and the things they did. There are practical lessons for us to be able to apply to our lives, so many generations later and we can learn them from studying the parsha. The Torah is eternal and the things written in it so many years ago still apply to us today!
Hashem wanted Avraham to experience firsthand what it's like to be a guest, a traveler, a stranger in another land so that he would be able to bring his mitzvah of to another level. Avraham, who was a master host, the best you can get at treating guests needed to see what it's like to be a guest at someone's house so that he would get to feel the discomforts, the shyness, the awkwardness a guest feels when he goes to the home of someone he doesn't know. Then, he would be able to fulfill this mitzvah to the maximum.
And we see, in next week's parsha, Parshas Vayeira, three malachim (angels) disguised as guests came to Avraham's house. He greeted them, welcomed them in and treated them in the best way possible, and he did this only after he himself was a guest, after he knew what it felt like to be uncomfortable in a stranger's house. That's when the Torah tells us how he fulfilled this mitzvah of hachnosas orchim.
We can take this to another level.
The best way to know how to treat others is by putting yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine what it's like to be in their situation. Then and only then can you really identify with what they are going through and treat them properly. When you hear that someone just went through something difficult, the way for you to truly feel with them and know how to help them is to try to picture in your mind what they are experiencing. Then you can try to help them out the best way possible.
It is interesting that many organizations were started by people who were in a situation and needed help. Once they realized what it was like to, for example, care for a sick family member without support, deal with the overwhelming feelings and needs of the birth of a special needs child, take care of marrying off children when there is only one parent to do the job, they decided to start an organization that would help others in the same situation so they could make it easier for them when they have to go through it too.
Many of these big organizations only started by people who felt a lack - and decided to do something about it!
So the lesson you can take from the parsha is that just like Avraham had to go through the experience of being a guest in a stranger's home before he could fully appreciate and fulfill the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, the way to feel for someone else is by putting yourself in their shoes. This way, you will be a better friend and a better support to those you know who are experiencing difficult times in their lives. And when someone you know is going through happy times, by you feeling with them and putting yourself in their shoes, you can really be excited for them and experience joy on a whole new level.
May you always be able to join in others simchas and happy times!