A Jew is supposed to follow the “Abraham model” when hosting guests. In fact, Abraham’s open tent on all sides is commemorated at every wedding ceremony!
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeira” (Genesis 18:1–22:24), and it contains the eternal paradigm for Jewish hospitality, known as “Hachnasat Orchim” in Hebrew.
A Jew is supposed to follow the “Abraham model” when hosting guests. In fact, Abraham’s open tent on all sides is commemorated at every wedding ceremony – with the chuppah! As a bride and groom marry to begin a new home together, they are reminded –at their very wedding ceremony– that their home must be open wide to guests just like our forefather Abraham’s.
Let’s see what else we can learn from Abraham’s acts of hospitality (all discussion here refers to Genesis 18:1-10 and commentaries).
Abraham’s tent was open on all sides so that he could see passersby coming from every direction. So too, the open door was reciprocally inviting to passersby who were roaming the parched desert. Just like Abraham was welcoming to guests of all kinds, whether Jewish or not, we also must treat everyone equally when it comes to offering home hospitality.
Abraham wasn’t having an easy day when his guests arrived. He had just circumcised himself! Nevertheless, the pain didn’t stop him from performing this great mitzvah. So too, when we feel it may be “inconvenient” to have guests, let us remember that Abraham didn’t hesitate to do so even when “inconvenient.”
The Torah tells us that Abraham would run to greet guests. We, too, should run and be enthusiastic at the opportunity to welcome guests into our home. Although some people see having guests as a burden or a chore, we are told to see it as an opportunity! It is an opportunity to emulate Abraham and the opportunity to perform a tremendous mitzvah at the same time. We should receive our guests joyfully and with a smile. Make your guests feel like they are important and a pleasure to have.
It is noted that although Abraham and Sarah had many servants at their disposal, they personally tended to the needs of their gusts, and for the most part did not designate the various tasks to others. Sarah personally baked the bread for her guests and Abraham personally cooked the meat.
By the way, on the topic of the meat that Abraham served, we are told that he served his guests tongue, considered to be one of the finest cuts. We learn here that we too should endeavor to offer our guests the finest foods we can. Also note how at first Abraham mentions that he would bring “a little bit of water” and “a little bit of bread” but in the end he served them a huge meal. As the Mishna teaches, “say little but do much.”
At the end of the meal, Abraham encouraged his guests to thank God for the food, one of the first instances of a grace-after-meals in the Torah. So too, we are to encourage our guests to perform mitzvot and acknowledge that all blessing in the world comes from God. This is true whether your guests are Jewish or not! All mankind must worship and believe in the God of Abraham!
When Abraham’s guests got up to leave, he escorted them out. So too, we should escort our guests out to their car or to the bus stop. As one can see, the mitzvah of hachanasat orchim does not cease when your guests walk out the door, but rather, the mitzva continues through your escorting them.
And if you’re a guest at someone’s house, be sure to ask about the welfare of your host’s spouse and family. Just like Avraham’s guests asked him “Where is Sarah, your wife?” so too we should ask about the host’s family.
The mitzvah of having guests cannot be over-emphasized. It is hugely important. However, it may actually be more important and valuable for the host than for the guest. While the guest might get himself a good meal and a place to relax, the host gets much greater spiritual rewards by engaging in a life-transforming exercise in kindness!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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