One of the most difficult concepts to understand in Judaism is the question on how one relates to Almighty G-d. After all, a human being is only mortal. G-d, on the other hand, is immortal, and His presence spans the entire universe. How do we, with our human limitations, believe we can somehow relate to G-d, who is boundless and limitless?
Our Sages dealt with this baffling conflict, and though there is no one clear answer, there is one aspect that they all agree upon: A human being in his or her limited state can relate to G-d by emulating His ways. As He is merciful, so we should be merciful. As He buries the dead (as He did when Moses died), so we are obligated to tend to the dead and bury them. As he visits the sick (as He did when He sent angels to visit Abraham after he was circumcised), so we too are obligated to visit the sick. And as He provides sustenance for the entire world, so must we be willing to open our homes and welcome people and thereby fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests).
The first instance of the performance of this mitzvah of hachnasat orchim is found in the portion of Vayera. There, three guests visit Abraham. According to our Sages, these were angels. Abraham, even in his painful state after his circumcision, welcomes his guests. The story as it appears in the Torah seems to have happened rather quickly. Yet we know by analyzing the text that it must have taken hours to prepare an animal, slaughter it, and present it to the guests. Despite the fact that Abraham had not been prepared to entertain guests, he approached the opportunity with zeal and love and quickly went about the task of making his guests feel comfortable.
This, according to the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, is the real meaning of hachnasat orchim. There is no doubt that when we prepare for guests, and feed them and make them comfortable when they arrive, this also fulfils the mitzvah. But the real challenge and test is to welcome guests even when we are not prepared to have them – as Abraham our forefather did.
These past months, many of us were forced to stay in our homes and to literally be in seclusion while the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world. Here in the city of Efrat in Israel, this was a time when people showed their true colors and concern for the welfare of everyone living in the city. I recall receiving numerous calls from total strangers, even children, asking whether there was anything they could do to help during these trying times.
“Can we shop for you?”
“Can we take out your trash?”
“How can we help to make it easier for you during these challenging and difficult times?”
Flowers were at our door before Shabbat.
These people were mimicking the ways of Almighty G-d. As He is merciful so we must be. As Almighty G-d visits the sick so must we. As Almighty G-d is concerned with the welfare of people, we as a community must be as well.
In a time of challenges, we perform in a unique and different, yet meaningful way the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim: providing for people in a time of stress and difficulty.
“Mi k’amcha Yisrael goy echad ba’Aretz” – Who is like your people Israel, a singular and special people in the Land!