By Laura Seymour
Thanksgiving is over, but hopefully the visiting and hosting provided both a wonderful and learning experience! There are a great many Jewish values we practice, and among them, creating a welcoming environment for friends and relatives tops the list. With Chanukah fast approaching, more opportunities abound for folks to stop by and visit.
For Jews, welcoming others into their homes isn’t just a holiday thing — it’s practiced quite frequently. It’s common, for example, to invite people to Shabbat dinner. Hachnasat orchim — hospitality — is about opening one’s home to guests and it is an important standard for Jewish behavior.
One of the better-known Biblical stories pertaining to this mitzvah of welcoming guests focuses on Abraham and the three visitors who came to his tent. These visitors (who, unknown to Abraham, were actually angels), were invited in, had their feet washed, and were served a feast by Abraham and Sarah. The benefits of ministering to these angels were found later on, but the point here is that Abraham did a good, and holy, thing.
The sages were also very concerned about hospitality, especially during the agrarian society, when people mainly wandered. It was an important mitzvah to welcome anyone who traveled or who was new to a community, or even alone. The ancient rabbis were so concerned with the hospitality mandate, they developed 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)
We no longer live in an agrarian economy, of course, but many of the rules above can fit with our way of entertaining today. Along those lines, you can boost the mitzvah of opening your home with the following activities:
Make up rules that can be used during play dates — for children, especially, structure is very important, and they’ll have a better time if they have it.
Scout around your neighborhood or school and see if there is a new family who has just moved in. Invite that family over to dinner one night.
Consider the best ways to welcome new friends at school or at camp.
By opening your home as a welcoming place to friends and neighbors, you’ll be fulfilling the mitzvah of hospitality. Good luck — and happy gatherings!
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish Life and Learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.