By Laura Seymour
During the winter holidays, families often entertain guests or go to another person’s home. The value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests or hospitality, is an important Jewish value to learn and practice. Of course, the best way to teach children is by modeling the behavior.
Hachnasat orchim is about extending hospitality to guests, and it is an important standard for Jewish behavior.
One of my 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 during play dates.
- Have you ever invited a new family in your neighborhood for dinner?
- How can you be welcoming to a new friend at school?
Do something ‘Jewish unplugged’
Go to a synagogue service Friday night or Saturday morning. Take the whole family. Try a different synagogue. Take another family. Have Shabbat dinner or lunch with friends.
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish life and learning and director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.