Jewish Text Study on hospitality – Rabbi Ian Goodhardt

The Hand of Welcome

Jewish Sources
Genesis Chapter 18

1 And the LORD appeared unto him [Abraham] in the Plains of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; א וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ×”’, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם.
2 and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth, ב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה.
3 and said: “My lord, if now I have found favour in your sight, please do not pass, I pray you, from your servant. ×’ וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹ-נָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ.
4 Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet; rest under the tree. ד יֻקַּח-נָא מְעַט-מַיִם, וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם; וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ, תַּחַת הָעֵץ.
5 I will fetch a morsel of bread so that you can refresh yourselves; then you can continue on; after all, you have come to your servant.” And they said: “Yes; do as you have said.” ×” וְאֶקְחָה פַת-לֶחֶם וְסַעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם, אַחַר תַּעֲבֹרוּ–×›Ö´Ö¼×™-עַל-כֵּן עֲבַרְתֶּם, עַל-עַבְדְּכֶם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ.
6 And Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said: “Quick! Three measures of fine flour! Knead it! Make cakes!” ו וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה, אֶל-שָׂרָה; וַיֹּאמֶר, מַהֲרִי שְׁלֹשׁ סְאִים קֶמַח סֹלֶת–לוּשִׁי, וַעֲשִׂי עֻגוֹת.
7 Abraham ran to the cattle, and fetched a tender and choice calf, and gave it unto the young man who rushed to prepare it. ז וְאֶל-הַבָּקָר, רָץ אַבְרָהָם; וַיִּקַּח בֶּן-בָּקָר רַךְ וָטוֹב, וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-הַנַּעַר, וַיְמַהֵר, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתוֹ.
8 And he took butter (or curd/cottage cheese), and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. ח וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב, וּבֶן-הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וַיִּתֵּן, לִפְנֵיהֶם; וְהוּא-עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ, וַיֹּאכֵלוּ.

Babylonian Talmud – Bava Metzia 86a

And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. What is meant by ‘in the heat of the day’? — R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: It was the third day from Abraham’s circumcision, and the Holy One, blessed be He, came to enquire after Abraham’s health; [moreover,] he drew the sun out of its sheath, so that the righteous man [i.e. Abraham] should not be troubled with wayfarers. He sent Eliezer out [to seek travellers], but he found none. Said he, ‘I do not believe thee’. (Hence they say there — i.e. in Israel — slaves are not to be believed.) So he himself went out, and saw the Holy One, blessed be He, standing at the door; thus it is written, Pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. But on seeing him tying and untying [the bandages of his circumcision], He said, ‘It is not well that I stand here’; hence it is written, And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him, and when he saw them, he ran to meet them: at first they came and stood over him, but when they saw him in pain, they said, ‘It is not seemly to stand here.’

Babylonian Talmud – Shabbat 127a

R. Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Hospitality is even a greater merit than receiving the Divine Presence (Shekhina), as it is written [Genesis xviii. 3]: “And he said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy eyes, pass not away,” etc. (showing that Abraham let the Lord wait while he went to receive his guests).

Babylonian Talmud – Kiddushin 32b

Babylonian Talmud – Ta’anit 20b

Rabba asked Raphram bar Papa: “Can you relate to me the good things which R. Huna did?” And he replied: “I do not remember anything of his youth; but when he was of mature age …. When sitting down to a meal, he would order a servant to throw open the doors and call out: כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל Whoever desires to eat, let him come in and do so.”

Other biblical examples:
• Rahab was rewarded for accommodating Joshua’s two spies (Josh. 2)
• Manoach did not allow the angel to depart until he had partaken of hospitality (Judg. 13:15)
• The Shunamite woman prepared a special room to accommodate Elisha (II Kings 4:8-11)

Isaiah Chapter 58

7 Is it not for you to spread your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the moaning poor to your house? when you see the naked, you should cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? ז הֲלוֹא פָרֹס לָרָעֵב לַחְמֶךָ, וַעֲנִיִּים מְרוּדִים תָּבִיא בָיִת: כִּי-תִרְאֶה עָרֹם וְכִסִּיתוֹ, וּמִבְּשָׂרְךָ לֹא תִתְעַלָּם.

Maimonides – Mishne Torah, Hil. Avel 14:2

The merit of accompanying [guests on their way] is the greatest of all. And this is a statute that was enacted by our father Abraham, and is the way of kindness in which he conducted himself. One feeds travellers, gives them drink, and accompanies them. And welcoming guests is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence etc. Escorting them on their way is more important than welcoming them in. The rabbis said: Whoever does not accompany is as if he shed blood.

20th Century examples

From Pliskin, Z; Love your Neighbor.