The Greatness Of Hachnasas Orchim

The parashah this week begins with a 99-year old Avraham Avinu, on the third day following his bris milah, sitting at the entrance of his tent in extreme heat, pining for guests. Hakadosh Baruch Hu comes to visit him, so to speak, to be mevaker choleh.

Avraham Avinu then spies what look to him like three idol-worshippers, hardly the type most of us would be anxious to welcome into our homes. But our lofty ancestor asks Hashem, k’vayachol — so to speak — to wait, and runs toward them. Chazal learn (Shabbos 127a) that hachnasas orchim — welcoming guests — is greater than kabbalas pnei haShechinah.

While the heroic story of Ur Kasdim, when Avraham Avinu was thrown into a fiery furnace because he recognized Hashem as the Al-mighty creator of the world, is barely hinted at in the written Torah, but told only in Chazal, the story of Avraham Avinu welcoming his guests is told in great detail.

We have no concept of the lofty intentions of the Avos, but we can use the lessons of this parashah to be inspired in the fulfillment of this great mitzvah.

It is told that it was in the zechus of his outstanding level of hachnasas orchim that the father of the Baal Shem Tov merited a son who, three centuries later, continues to illuminate the world. In more recent times, it is said, the Rebbe Harav Yeshayah of Kerestir became a renowned miracle worker because of his hachnasas orchim.

As much as most of us would presumably like it, it isn’t always practical to have a houseful of guests around the table each week. For one thing, guests aren’t always available, and for another, exhausted housewives (or even husbands) aren’t always up to hosting strangers. Yet we should always be eager to fulfill this mitzvah, which can be accomplished in many ways.

Giving someone a car ride after davening, or to and from a simchah, is a type of hachnasas orchim. Donating money to or helping run the coffee-and-tea room in your local shul presumably qualifies as well.

Ultimately it is a matter of approach. When we recognize that the host gains far more than the guest possibly can, when we understand that the ability to perform hachnasas orchim is a precious, priceless gift, we find ways and means to do so.

It isn’t only the hosts who need to keep this in mind; potential guests should do so as well. Too many members of our community eat alone because they feel uncomfortable accepting, let alone asking for, an invitation to a meal.

It is crucial that they realize that they are giving much more than they are getting, and regardless of whether their host manages to make them feel comfortable or not, they are bringing a blessing into the homes they enter.

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Avraham Avinu told his guests: “I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may nourish your heart…”

Rashi says: “In the Torah, in the Neviim, and in the Kesuvim we have found that bread is the nourishment of the heart.” He then brings each source.

The fact that bread — the classic staple food — nourishes is known to all. Why did Chazal find it necessary to bring proofs from all three parts of the written Torah to prove this point?

Furthermore, even if it weren’t that well known, why is it so important that such weighty proofs are deemed necessary?

In addition, Rashi on the same passuk points out that the word is singular, and not the plural of “hearts,” which teaches us that angels don’t have a yetzer hara.

This too is puzzling. In this passuk the malachim are being given food to eat, a very human thing to do. Why davka from this passuk do we learn that angels don’t have an evil inclination?

One answer to both questions is that “bread” symbolizes parnassah, while the “heart” symbolizes avodas Hashem.

Chazal wished to stress the crucial need for Klal Yisrael to have parnassah, as this directly affects their ability to serve Hashem. To strengthen this message — and tefillah — to Hashem, proof was brought from the Torah, Neviim and Kesuvim.

Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the angels, who have no worries about parnassah, also have no yetzer hara. For the constant pressure of putting bread on the table, the continuous fretting over how to pay the mortgage or scrape together the rent, make it far harder for us to serve Hashem. (Based on Divrei Yisrael of Modzitz)

It is noteworthy, Hachnasas orchim is also a segulah for parnassah. The Shevet Mussar (in sefer Me’il Tzedakah) warns against assuming erroneously that the expenses of feeding guests can harm one’s financial stability.

Rather than losing any money on such an endeavor, he assures us that whoever performs this mitzvah will merit “miracles” in regard to his income.