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Posted on November 2, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

They said, “Do just as you have said.”[1]

Now, what is that supposed to mean? The three wayfarers hear Avraham’s exceedingly elaborate offer of hospitality. Etiquette would call for them to demur. “Oh, no, sir! Please don’t trouble yourself so much on our behalf. Just a bit of cold water and a piece of bread will be fine.”

Instead, they cheer him on. “Hey, bro’. Go for it!” What could they have meant?

Chazal[2] contrast the good guest with his bad counterpart. The good guest says, “All that the host has troubled himself with, he has done only for me!” The bad guest says, “Whatever the host has done, was only for himself.” How can the bad guest be so obtuse, after he sees all the activity done for his benefit?

The answer seems to start with two different attitudes towards hachnasas orchim. No question, catering to guests is an important mitzvah. It can be performed, however, for good reasons, and for not so good reasons. Performed properly, it is sourced in the generous heart of the host. Improperly, it is motivated by virtue-signaling. The host lavishes attention on the guest so that the latter will sing his praises to the public after he leaves.

The good and bad guests reflect these two positions. Each one projects on his host what he would be doing if he were the host, rather than the guest. The good guest is the one with the generous spirit. He assumes that his host is possessed of one himself. The bad guest knows that when he welcomes guests to his own home, his real interest is gaining public approval points. He projects on his hosts the same motivation. Whatever largesse he sees offered on his own behalf, he attributes to the host’s need to look good.

Now, there is one way for the bad host to have his cake and eat it too – rather than feed it to his guest. That is to offer seemingly magnanimous invitations of hospitality when the would-be guests will turn them down. That way, the invitees speak glowingly of his generosity, without the host having to spend time or money on them!

Thus, the enthusiasm of a host in offering hospitality has to be taken with a grain of salt. It might be sincere. Or it might not. His reaction when the guest accepts his offer clarifies things. The sincere host genuinely wants the guest to accept his invitation, and displays his pleasure when he does. The insincere host, however, is better served by the guest turning down his offer. That way, he reaps the benefit of a boost to his reputation without having any skin in the game. Of course, once the offer is extended, the host has to live with the consequences. If the guest accepts, he must play the role of a gracious host. But that acceptance brings him no joy.

This, then, is what the three malachim meant. Avraham offered his hospitality with much alacrity and happiness. They knew that Avraham was the machnis orchim par excellence. So they tell him, “Do just as you have said.” You offered a meal to us with happiness in your voice. Now follow up in the same manner – with happiness that we are accepting your offer!

  1. Bereishis 18:5
  2. Berachos 58a