In the past few weeks we discussed one of the Mitzvot (commandments) that
involve bestowing kindness to our fellow man. Another of those mitzvot is
that of inviting and hosting guests in one’s house. A person who does
this mitzva (having guests is known as hachnasat orchim in Hebrew) does in
fact fulfill more than one mitzva; it is included in the mitzva of ‘love
thy neighbor like yourself’ because we would like others to offer us meals
or lodgings at times of need.
It is also a fulfillment of the mitzva to ‘go in the ways of G-d’, which
teaches us that we should strive to emulate G-d’s character traits and
actions. Although there is no specific incident in the Torah in which G-
d, so-so-speak, hosted people for a meal, it seems that Hashem is
constantly hosting the entire world, offering us a place to sleep and food
to eat! Thus, being hospitable to others is a way of emulating G-d.
This mitzva is considered so great that it is placed on an equal level of
going early to learn Torah. Learning Torah is, in many ways, the most
important mitzva in the Torah because it enables us to keep all the
mitzvot and to develop a relationship with G-d. Nonetheless, having guests
is considered as great a mitzva as getting up early to learn Torah!
Moreover, the Rabbis teach that having guest is even greater than being
exposed to the Divine Presence! We learn this from the behavior of
Avraham Avinu when Hashem visited him after his circumcision .1 In the midst of reveling in Hashem’s
exalted presence, Avraham sees three strangers approaching. He suddenly
excuses himself from Hashem’s presence to speak to the strangers and offer
them a meal! There is no allusion in this incident that Avraham did
anything wrong, and therefore this teaches us that it must be greater to
have guests than communicate directly with G-d! The reason for this is
that, being like G-d is an even greater way of connecting to Him than
speaking to Him!
In the coming weeks we will discuss the details of this great mitzva.