In this week’s parsha of Vaera we learn about hospitality, known in Hebrew as Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests. We have two examples of hospitality, one as Abraham welcomes three men (it does not say angels in Genesis 18:2) and another of Lot, who invites two angels to visit him.

How is Abraham’s hospitality different from that of Lot? For one, Abraham welcomed three men whom he saw as wanderers, not as angels, whereas Lot invited in angels. Rabbi Frand (from Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2) differentiates the two greetings; Abraham welcomed men wandering through the wilderness, Lot was only welcoming because he saw angels. But at the same time, Lot had learned something from Uncle Abraham’s example.

Rabbi Frand writes:

Lot…saw angels. Lot was hospitable, but he wasn’t going to have just anyone at his house… Lot had learned enough from his uncle Avraham to invite the angels in, but he had not learned a most important lesson: you don’t handpick your guests. True hachnassas orchim is to make everyone feel welcome at your home, angel or human. And human, we might add, applies to all humans, even those that come from the less genteel segments of society.

Rashi brings another difference in their hospitality. Abraham requested that the travelers remove the dust from their feet first and then enter. Lot invited them to enter with dusty feet. Abraham saw his guests as worshipers of dust and did not want to bring their idol worship into his home. Lot, on the other hand, knew that the people of Sodom objected to Hachnasat Orchim so to protect the visitors suggested the guests remain with dust on their feet so it would appear as though they had just arrived.

I do like having guests over, though I can’t say I always feel up to it; some weeks I feel more inclined to entertain than others. But I do welcome my daughter’s complaint when we don’t have guests (“no guests this week?” she has been known to say). I like that she appreciates Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests into our home.

Finally, I struggle with Rabbi Frand’s idea of welcoming anyone into one’s home. Anyone else have their doubts or thoughts about this?

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14 thoughts on “Hospitality

  • I almost wasn’t going to quote Rabbi Frand because of his conclusion, but I figured, I could just state my hesitation at the end. No need to agree with every little detail.

    There are some people I would be downright scared to invite to my home…not everyone is on his rocker, so to speak.

  • It would be a nice idea, but… my dad once invited men into our home who turned out to be wanted by Interpol.

    With 4 small children in the house, it probably wasn’t the most brilliant move he ever made.

    (I swear it’s true – you can’t make up stuff like this.)

  • sorry. my mom corrects me. Only one of the two men he invited was wanted by interpol.
    And I was already born at the time, so she had 4 kids (12 and under) and a 1-year-old baby

  • one view (e.g., radak) is that the entire encounter with the angles was a nevu’ah in the form of a dream. i guess can you can argue that avraham was so imbued with a passion for hachnasat orechim that he even dreamed about it.

    we used to invite guests all the time until jr came around. now it’s very rare. it’s amazing that some people have so much energy for hachnasat orecheim–it really does require energy–even with so many other things going in their lives.

    the bloggers “lakewood falling down” (mr and mrs) are very good about it (we’ve been the beneficiaries).

  • I know people who have company every Shabbat, and cook up a storm. Or people who could spontaneously invite a family on the spot and have enough food for all. Not I. I find entertaining expensive and exhausting. MII is right, it’s usually worth it, but I am TIRED!

    I should post about this topic, I have lots to say…

  • If I lived in Sdom when Lot did, I’d feel a lot better about having angels in, especially since hachnasat orchim was shunned there. Tough neighborhood.

    My kids always prefer having guests, so we invite guests most Shabbatot (unless we’re going out). As an at-home mom, I enjoy the adult conversation and company once a week, and the kids appreciate the play dates, especially in the summer when Saturdays are so long. It’s not cheap and it’s not hassle-free, but for us it’s usually worth it.

  • triLcat, it sounds like your father meant well! But we do need to be careful.

    LoZ, Lakewood Falling Down does like mentioning you and your family on their blog.

    MiI, most of the time my “guests” are my kids’ friends. I enjoy having them; they liven up the table, and I don’t have to entertain them.

    Baila, if I were working full-time, I don’t know if I would ever have the energy to entertain. I rarely work on Fridays.

    Shimshonit, I’m glad you enyoy your guests!

  • Great Watercolor you made!

    I remember learning all those difference between Avraham and Lot.

    It’s great to be refreshed.

    That’s great that you have guests over and that your daughter enjoys it. We actually barely have guests over, maybe one time we did, and I would love to have it more, it makes shabbos so much more enjoyable, everyone would stay at the table and there would be interesting conversation.

    Actually this Friday night, my family got invited over to one of the families I babysit for, for the meal, they also go to our shul, and every week they have somebody else over.

    But yea, I wouldn’t have anyone over, some people can deal with homeless strangers, but I wouldn’t think it’s the norm, especially if there are kids in the house.

  • I had thought of inviting a homeless man who lives on a street bench close by. He’s harmless and tidy, and not an alcoholic. But he does smell, and there is a strange look in his eyes – I suppose I might smell and acquire a strange look too, if I lived the way he does (chas ve’shalom). If it were just my husband and myself, I’d invite him, but it would freak my mother and daughter right out.

    I think someone larger-spirited than I must take him in sometimes. Every so often he’s wearing clean clothes. I’ve spoken to him: his name is Alexander, he’s Russian, and speaks only broken Hebrew. He managed to tell me that he doesn’t want to work, although he’s been offered menial jobs. (I don’t see what’s wrong with menial; I supported my kids doing housework for a while, back when I was a single mom. And I’m *still* doing menial work, in my own house.)

    Other folks on the street also speak to Alexander, I’ve seen. The social services know all about him, apparently, but he refuses any help from them. I really wouldn’t mind inviting him (and offering to wash his clothes and let him take a shower)- but again, he would bewilder and frighten my family.

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