It is almost winter break — a time for families to get away as well as a time for adults of all ages to plan trips and to welcome guests into your home. As you prepare, a very good Jewish value is Hachnasat orchim, hospitality or welcoming guests. There is a skill to welcoming guests and to being one (whether in someone’s home, a hotel or an amusement park). There is a little learning, a little thinking and then a lot of doing! These “hints” may sound like they are just for children but all of us have been the host and the guest, and we do need to think about it and plan for each experience. Here is a little learning:
Hachnasat orchim is about extending hospitality to guests and it is an important standard for Jewish behavior. One of the favorite stories about this mitzvah is about Abraham taking care of the three visitors who came to his tent. He said he would give a little food and then made a major meal — and so set the standard for doing even more. The ancient rabbis were also very concerned about hospitality. It was an important mitzvah to welcome anyone who traveled or who was new or alone. The rabbis came up with specific guidelines for host and guest. Here are a few:
Rules for the host
- Always be happy when you are sitting at your table and those who are hungry are enjoying your hospitality. —Derech Eretz Zuta 9
- Do not embarrass your guests by staring at them. —Mishneh Torah
- It is the obligation of the host to serve at the table. This shows his/her willingness to personally satisfy the guests. —Talmud, Kiddushin 32b
Rules for the guest
- A good guest says, “How much trouble my host goes through for me.” —Talmud, Berachot 58a
- A good guest complies with every request that the host makes of him. —Derech Eretz Rabbah 6
- Guests should not overstay their welcome. —Talmud, Pesachim 49a
- Good guests leave food on their plates to show that they have been served more than enough. —Talmud, Eruvin 53b
- Make up rules that you can use when you visit somewhere.
- Have you ever invited a new family in your neighborhood for dinner? What plans might you put in place to make them feel welcome?
- How can you be welcoming to a new friend whether you meet them at your home or some place you are visiting?
Laura Seymour is Jewish Experiential Learning director and Camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.