During the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, thousands of Jews visiting the Kotel got the famous tap on the shoulder. A tall man with a warm smile would greet them, saying, “Hi, my name is Meir Schuster. Would you like to experience a genuine Shabbos meal?” Many took him up on his offer, and this began their connection to Shabbos and Torah. The power of a simple Shabbos meal is something remarkable. When I was learning in yeshiva, one of the highlights was joining my rabbeim for a Shabbos meal. I was privileged to be hosted by many of my rabbeim … even after I was married! I attribute much of my development to having had a chance to observe these remarkable people in their own homes, each interacting warmly with his wife and children and serving as a true role model.
Avraham and Sarah are our ultimate role models for this special mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, hosting guests. Hospitality was their defining mitzvah. A pasuk says they planted an eishel, a tree, to provide shade for their guests. The Gemara brings two opinions: either the eishel was an orchard to provide fruits for their guests, or else a place of lodging. Rashi points out that the letters of the word eishel (aleph-shin-lamed) serve as roshei teivos, initials: aleph for achilah, food; shin for shtiyah, drink; and lamed for linah, sleep or levayah, escort. Avraham and Sarah’s hospitality went to the extent of building a hotel—a full-service place for people to eat and sleep!
However, they didn’t just want to nourish people’s bodies. They also wanted to provide nourishment for their souls. When their guests finished their meal, they would thank Avraham and Sarah for their delicious meals. Avraham would respond, “We are all guests in this world. It’s Hashem Who created the world and continues to make everything grow. We are all His guests.”
Avraham and Sarah didn’t lecture people, either. Their way of teaching was to bring people into their lives, thereby giving those people an inside view of lives truly rich with purpose.
Hospitality has incredible personal dividends as well. Rav Moshe Aharon Stern records that someone once approached the Chofetz Chaim and asked him for a bracha for healthy, successful children who will be Torah observant. The Chofetz Chaim told him the key to this blessing is simple: host lots of guests!
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that whenever we do a mitzvah, we plant a spiritual fruit tree. And each mitzvah is a different fruit tree. The fruits of these trees are the blessings we receive from performing that mitzvah. The fruit or dividend of the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim is to have healthy and successful children. Indeed, we see Avraham and Sarah receive their blessing to have a child when they did hachnasas orchim with the angels who visited them.
These blessings for hospitality are further seen in this week’s haftarah, which describes how Elisha HaNavi would frequent the town of Shunem. A married couple decided to make a special room for the navi, so he could feel comfortable to come by at any time. They set up a bed, a table, a chair and a lantern so he could sleep, eat and learn uninterrupted. In appreciation, Elisha asked what he could do for them. The couple was married for many years without children. Elisha blessed them to have a child, and they had a child who became Chavakkuk HaNavi.
There are certain types of hospitality which are more rewarding than others. The reward that Avraham and Sarah received for their hospitality of hosting the angels extended to their future generations. For serving the angels butter and milk, Klal Yisrael merited the mann (see Rashi quoting the Gemara.) For truly tending to all the angels’ needs, Avraham’s descendants merited the clouds of glory which protected them in the desert. And for the simple act of giving water to the angels, Avraham’s progeny merited the wellspring of Miriam, which provided water to Klal Yisrael in the desert.
That’s a lot of rewards! Keep in mind: Avraham was constantly hosting guests. Why was hosting the angels rewarded so generously?
Rav Eliyahu Boruch Finkel explains that this specific act of hospitality was done with tremendous effort and mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. Avraham was in pain, recovering from his bris. The heat outside was oppressive. Still, Avraham focused on their needs and not on his own discomfort.
May we merit to open our homes to many guests and be a part of the great opportunity to obtain many blessings through hachnasas orchim.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.