Insights into Hachnasat Orchim by Shai Berman


At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us of Avraham’s desire to do the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim and the Malachim’s foretelling of the future.  From this, we learn many Halachot of Hachnasat Orchim.

Immediately after Avraham saw the Malachim, Avraham asked Hashem (18:3), “Im Na Matzati Chein BeEinecha, Al Na Taavor MeiAl Avdecha,” “If I have found favor in Your eyes, please do not leave your servant.”  Both Rashi and Chazal say that Avraham said this Tefillah before he greeted his guests.  This shows us that Avraham had left the presence of Hashem to welcome the Orchim.  Chazal (Shabbat 127a) learn from this that it is more important to greet guests than to greet Hashem’s Shechinah.

After Avraham invited his guests to stay, he chose a cow for Yishmael to slaughter.  He then went to get butter and milk for his guests.  Avraham did all of this by himself, even though he could have asked one of his many servants to do it for him.  From here we can learn that even though one may have others able to do the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim for him, he should run to do the Mitzvah himself.

Avraham told his guests that they should stay and that he would bring them bread, but Avraham brought more than bread.  He provided his guests with meat, milk, and butter, far more than he had promised. Chazal learn from this the Halacha, “Emor Me’at VaAsei Harbei,” “Say little and do a lot.”

When the Malachim came, Avraham asked them to wash their feet.  Rashi comments that Avraham asked the Malachim to do this because he thought that these people were Arabs that bow down to the dust of their feet (since they worshipped Avodah Zarah).  We can infer from this that one should do the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim for anybody, even for Ovdei Avodah Zarah.

With the information from the last Halacha, we can learn a basic difference between the Hachnasat Orchim of Avraham and of Lot. When the Malachim came to Avraham, the Pasuk (18:12) states, “VeHinei Sheloshah Anashim,” “And, behold, there were three men.”  When the Malachim came to Lot, the Pasuk (19:1) says, “VaYavo’u Shenei Malachim,” “Two angels came.”  When the Malachim came to Avraham, they looked like ordinary men.  Avraham accepted them as guests even though he thought they could have been Ovdei Avodah Zarah.  When the Malachim came to Lot, they looked like Malachim.  Perhaps, Lot welcomed his guests only because he knew that they were angels.

We can learn from Avraham’s Chesed that we should treat others kindly, no matter whom they are or what opinion we may have of them.  We should not turn our shoulder to anyone in need.  Bnei Yisrael are described as “Rachmanim Bnei Rachmanim,” “Compassionate people, sons of compassionate people.”  If someone is in trouble, we help them.  It does not matter to us what religion they practice.  When, in 2004, a tsunami hit Indonesia, a predominately Muslim country, Israel sent a tremendous amount of money to help it recover.  Israel has also sent money to America for Katrina relief.  In these instances, Israel acts as all Jews must.  Bnei Yisrael helps everyone in need, and we personally should try to do the same. 

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