Thanks, God, for the Guests!
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
At the beginning of our parasha Abraham is sitting in his tent when God appeared to him. He sees three men nearby. The Torah says: “And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw, and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground. And he said, “My lords, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant. Please let a little water be taken, and bathe your feet, and recline under the tree. And I will take a morsel of bread, and sustain your hearts; after[wards] you shall pass on, because you have passed by your servant.” And they said, “So shall you do, as you have spoken” (Genesis 18:3-5).
This is considered a classic Jewish source for Hachnasat Orchim, the mitzvah of welcoming guests. As you may know, inviting and welcoming guests is considered a great commandment, a great honor, and a great pleasure at the same time. That is why you will see observant people trying to have guests whenever they are able to, especially for Shabbat and festival meals.
Among the verses I quoted above, you can find Abraham telling his prospective guests,
“וְאֶקְחָה פַת לֶחֶם וְסַעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם”
“And I will take a morsel of bread, and you will sustain your hearts” (Genesis18:5).
Most of us would probably understand here that the Torah means that Abraham is going to fetch, bring, or serve bread for the three men, or that the men are going to take that bread and eat it. However, the literal meaning of the Torah here is that Abraham will take bread (for himself?) and the men will eat. So, what is Abraham doing here, giving or taking?
The Torah is trying to give us a lesson. Why is Abraham taking something for himself if he is really trying to give it to others? The reason is because the Torah is telling us that when you welcome guests, you receive more than you give.
Why is this? Well, I find there are two ways in which the guest gives a lot to his/her host. First, there is a feeling of satisfaction in the host who welcomes his/her guest. All of us who like welcoming guests for Shabbat, holidays, or other occasions know how rewarded you feel when you receive people at home. Even when you must clean up and cook before having guests, right after your guests leave your home you usually feel thankful for the opportunity of having them. That feeling of reward is, on most occasions, more valuable than all the work you may have needed to do in preparation for the visit.
Second, there is a very evident practical way in which you receive so much when you have guests. There is a funny saying in Yiddish that means something like, “Thanks God for the guests!” or “May God bring us guests!” The explanation for this saying is very simple: When you have guests your house is likely to look better and cleaner than usual, the food you eat is likely tastier than usual, you are more likely to dress more elegantly than usual, etc. Everything tends to look so good when you welcome guest at home! This is the second reason why welcoming guests helps you keep your house and yourself in better shape. It greatly encourages you to take care of those everyday things for which we struggle to find a time or even the willingness to do.
The Jewish tradition invites us to follow Abraham’s example and try to welcome guests at home. It is a Mitzvah that gives us a warm feeling of reward and encourages us to take care of our homes and ourselves. You are invited to invite!