Our father Abraham would bring people into his home, give them food and drink, befriend them, and thus attract them, and then convert them and bring them under the wings of the Presence. (1:3:15)As I read this, my first thoughts were of Jesus. He preached that sharing meals with neighbours was a great way to convert people. (Or, at least that's how the Apostles have reported it.) While I wouldn't be surprised if there was a shared tradition between Abraham and Jesus, there's still something that seems sneaky, underhanded about this. But I continued reading.
Abraham used to receive wayfarers. After they had eaten and drunk, he would suggest, "Say grace." When they asked, "What shall we say?" he would reply, "[Say], 'Blessed be the everlasting God of the world, of whose bounty we have partaken.'" If the wayfarer, having eaten and drunk, accepted the suggestion and said grace, he would be allowed to depart. But if he refused, Abraham would say, "Pay what you owe me."Alert! Alert!
When the wayfarer asked, "How much do I owe you?" Abraham would reply [with the cost of the food and drink]. Who do you suppose is giving you the wine in the wilderness? meat in the wilderness? bread in the wilderness?" The wayfarer, now aware that he must either pay or thank God by saying grace, would say [grace]. (1:3:18)And now I'm feeling more uncomfortable. I understand Abraham's want to share his faith, his appreciation for God. But giving an ultimatum of "see it my way" or "give me payment" when he had kindly invited these unsuspecting, possibly naively unsuspecting, travelers? Not okay. Do we want people to thank God for all that has been provided? Of course. Do we want it to be forced? Hopefully not. This approach feels like that of Chabad: the need is for Jews to perform the mitzvos (commandments), regardless of the kavanah (intention).
If I were to explain Judaism, God, to non-Jews, I wouldn't approach it this way. I'd make it a conversation, make it sound exciting by explaining what aspects excite me, what aspects I enjoy wrestling with. I wouldn't encourage adapting practices that are vacuous, meaningless, or without accompanying faith or belief.
I don't want to end on a negative note though. So I'll also mention that I was excited by the possibility that this section includes sources for birkas hamazon - the grace after meals.
Maybe this post should have been called "Why feygele isn't working in outreach." Oh, wait...