The Importance of Hachnasat Orechim by Isaac Altman


This week’s Parashah mentions the wicked city of Sedom for the first time in the Torah. In introducing Sedom, the Torah states, “VeAnshei Sedom Ra’im VeChata’im LaShem Me’od,” “Now the people of Sedom were wicked and sinful to Hashem exceedingly” (BeReishit 13:3). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. LaShem Me’od) notes that the word “Me’od,” “exceedingly,” implies that the people of Sedom knew that Hashem existed and that He was their Master. The fact that they nonetheless performed rebellious acts against Him made their transgressions even worse.

In Mesechet Sanhedrin (107b), the Mishnah states that the people of Sedom have no share in the World to Come. It derives this from the aforementioned Pasuk: the word “Ra’im” refers to being wicked in this world, and the word “VeChata’im” pertains to the World to Come. Rav Yehudah (109a) reinterprets the Pasuk as referring to their being evil with their bodies and sinful with their money. He adds that the last word of the Pasuk, “Me’od,” implies that the Sedomites did not just sin thoughtlessly; rather, they thought about what they were doing before they sinned. The Gemara further states that the word “Me’od” refers to the shedding of blood that occurred in the city of Sedom. To further detail the Sedomites’ evil deeds, Rava states that they would seek out wealthy visitors, seat them next to a wall, push the wall over on them to kill them, and take their money. (According to the Maharsha, the Sedomites would not kill the person with the wall; rather, they would try the visitor in court and make him pay for the wall.) Additionally, Rava explains how the Sedomites used to place spices on visitors in order to detect them at night and steal from them.

The Sedomites’ misdeeds against strangers and guests are in stark contrast to Avraham, who personified the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orechim, inviting guests. The Midrash that presents Avraham leaving a conversation with Hashem in the heat of day just to greet three strangers is a classic example of Avraham’s legendary kindness. Rashi (BeReishit 18:2 s.v. VaYar) states that the strangers who walked past Avraham’s tent made it obvious that they did not want to trouble him, yet he still got up and ran toward them, so as to help them as quickly as possible. Rashi (BeReishit 18:1 s.v. KeChom HaYom) also details how Avraham became depressed from the heat – since he hadn’t had any people to help.

Focusing on the magnitude of this Mitzvah, Rav Dimi of Neharda’a (Shabbat 127a) states that receiving guests is greater than waking up early to study Torah. Rav Yehudah, quoting Rav, proves from the story of Avraham that receiving guests is even greater than receiving the presence of Hashem. Finally, it was said in the name of Rabi Yochanan that Hachnasat Orechim is one of six virtues from which a person may reap rewards in both this world and the World to Come.

The fundamental difference between Avraham and the people of Sedom lies in their respective attitudes toward strangers and guests. From this comparison, we can derive two lessons regarding the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orechim: It can make one a better person, and one gets rewarded in Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa for doing it, as shown in the Mishnah, both in Mesechet Sanhedrin and as Rabi Yochanan explained in Mesechet Shabbat. The difference and significance thereof between the two ideologies is also proven by the ultimate destruction of Sedom contrasted with the fate of Avraham, who became the pioneer of the longest lasting religion in the history of the world.

May we all be Zocheh to be as careful in our performance of the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orechim as Avraham Avinu.

Minhagim From BeReishit by Ariel Fromowitz

Av Hamon Goyim by Shimon Liebling