“Hachnassat Orchim: The Mitzvah of Hospitality”
By Rabbi Liat Yardeni-Funk, ’06, Dean of the Rabbinical School
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Avraham Avinu is awarded with the appearance of G-d, as it is written “And G-d appeared to him at Alonai Mamre” (Bereisheet 17:1). As we continue reading, we realize that at that same exact time G-d appears to Avraham, he lifts up his eyes and suddenly Avraham is very surprised. What did he see? Three men are coming towards him. Is it possible that Avraham could be saying to G-d: “One second G-d, hold on one minute please, dear and holy G-d, I have guests coming. Are you willing to hold on and wait just a moment until I welcome and greet my guests?” This is likely what Avraham conveys to G-d in the verse: “And he said G-d, please please do not pass over your servant.” (Bereisheet 18:3)
Talmud teaches us that “Welcoming the guests, and hospitality in general, is a greater Mitzvah than welcoming the Shekhinah” (Shabbat 127A). Avraham does not know that the three guests are in fact G-d’s angels who come to deliver the great news that his lifelong dream to have a son from Sarah will shortly become a reality. Avraham only knows that they are guests, tired travelers, and the moment he sees them, he runs to welcome them into his tent.
What an amazing lesson we learn from Avraham Avinu! Our rich Jewish tradition gives great importance to welcoming guests. How many times in our lives did we not pay close attention to the mitzvah of welcoming others? We may have focused on other mitzvot more, such as on fulfilling our obligation to study Torah, or to engage in prayer. How did Avraham know the magnitude and importance of the mitzvah ofhachnassat orchim, welcoming guests, and that it was much greater than welcoming the Shekhinah?
Avraham teaches us the awesome and lofty lesson of dropping all other occupations, even when faced with G-d, to perform hachnassat orchim, welcoming friends and family. Many of us have hosted friends and family into our sukkot and our Passover sedarim, but here Avraham teaches us of the importance of hospitality especially to strangers, each day and often.