When you host guests, give charity, visit the ill, or help the needy in other ways, God values your efforts, not the outcomes that result from your good deeds.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
In this week’s Torah portion, “Vayeira” (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24), we learn about “Hachnasat Orchim” which can be translated as “Hospitality” or “Welcoming Guests.” This is one of the mitzvas we learn from our forefather Avraham, who excelled in this particular area. In fact, Avraham is described throughout Scripture and Rabbinic literature as “The Patriarch of Kindness.”
The commentators derive a wealth of information from the opening verses of our Torah reading about how to treat guests.
The reading opens up three days after Avraham circumcised himself following God’s command to do so. As one would imagine after such a surgery, God wanted Avraham to take a break from his exhausting routine of welcoming guests into his home, so He made it extremely hot to prevent people from wandering about. However, when God saw that Avraham’s inability to host wayfarers distressed him greatly, He sent Avraham three “guests,” who were actually angels disguised as Arab wanderers. As the verses tell us, Avraham served them a feast.
But there’s a problem with this story: angels don’t eat. As such, if God was going to give in to Avraham’s desire to host guests, why did He send him “guests” that were essentially unable to eat food?! Why did he cause Avraham to prepare so much food seemingly for naught? What’s going on over here? Why didn’t God just send regular humans to stumble upon Avraham’s tent? (By the way, we are told that the angels “faked it” and pretended to eat the food.)
The sages answer that from here we learn about the true nature of hospitality. Contrary to a popular misconception, the mitzva of hospitality is not meant to benefit the guest. Rather, it is a mitzva that is intended to benefit the host! The giver who performs the mitzva is the one who gains, not the receiver! This is the reason that the first recorded episode of “welcoming guests” involved “people” who didn’t even need food or hospitality at all!
Avraham teaches us that a person is to through the lengths of the mitzva for oneself, not necessarily for the guest! Now if the guest also “coincidentally” benefits from your hard work, great, but if not, the mitzva is not lessened in any way.
Indeed, look at the wording of the verse in which Avraham serves his guests bread. The verse says “And I will take a loaf of bread” [Gen 18:5] but it would have made much more sense for the verse to say “And I will give a loaf of bread.” You don’t take a loaf of bread to your guests, you give a loaf of bread to your guests! Here is scriptural proof that giving to others is really “taking” for yourself.
The message is clear. When performing mitzvas for others, whether hosting guests, giving charity, visiting the sick, or any others, we should not feel bad if our efforts were unappreciated or not truly needed. In God’s eyes those considerations are irrelevant. A person is credited and rewarded for the efforts not the outcome!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: