Monday, October 14, 2013

Vayera 74 -The Art of Hospitality is in the ' Escorting'

Parashat Va'yeira opens up with Abraham being confined to his home after undergoing surgery – brit milah = circumcision. He still wants to have guests in his home, so he sits at the entrance of his tent despite the intense heat in the hope of inviting travelers passing by into his home. Abraham served God by being kind to people, inviting them into his home and drawing them into his orbit so he could inspire them with his example to learn about and serve God. Further on in the Parasha – chapter 21:33, the verse says that Abraham planted an 'Eshel' in Be'eir Sheva and proclaimed the name of God. The Sages talk about Abraham building an inn or planting an orchard for the benefit of his guests. The word ' eshel ' is made up of the 3 Hebrew letters - Alef, shin and  lamed. This is an acrostic for the 3 basic services a host should provide for his guests. The Alef stands for a'chilah = eating   , shin = shti'yah = drinking and lamed = li'viyah = escorting.

A man once came to the Vilna Ga'on and said that his home had been destroyed by fire. He wanted to know on what he should repent and do Te'shuvah. The Vilna Ga'on said that the man was not particular about ' escorting his guests ', the 3rd element of hospitality. He gave his guests food and drink, so there was the eating and drinking -  the first 2 letters of 'eshel'.  The first 2 letters – alef and shin produce the word ' esh' which means fire. So eshel without the lamed is esh= fire. This is the reason why the home was destroyed by fire.

So if you entertain guests, give them food and drink but you don't escort them, you are playing with fire. The obvious conclusion is that it is better and safer not to have guests in your home than to have guests whom you provide food and drink but don't escort.

Rabbi David Lapin offers the following explanation. If we want to have a party we need food, drink and most important guests. So the guests actually serve the host. Without guests there is no party. The same goes for the food and the drink – their presence serves the host. When the guests leave the home, they no longer serve any function in the party for the hosts. When the host honors and 'escorts' the guests - who now no longer serve a purpose- , the true intentions of the host are revealed. This tells us that the food and drink were not for the host and his party but there to provide and serve the guests.

I am sure that most of us have experienced what it feels like to escort oneself out of the host's home or function. I can understand the host who is occupied with attending to other guests apologizing for not be able to escort me a ' couple of meters'. But when that does not happen one feels used, like a tradesman being invited to serve the host and then let himself out. One feels that the only reason you were invited was to fill the hall and make sure that there are guests for the party- without guests there is no party.The quality of the hospitality therefore is dependent and hinges on the 3rd element – 'escorting the guests.'                                                                                                                                         
The Rambam in the laws Of Avel chapter 14 gives a lists of mitzvoth – good deeds that a person does to others as an expression of loving one's neighbor as oneself. He talks about visiting the sick, comforting the mourners, burying the dead, making weddings and ' escorting guests'.
We usually talk about the mitzvah of hospitality = hach'na'sat or'chim, why does the Rambam call the mitvah as escorting guests, and not use the language that we use. ? People talk about the importance of inviting guests and not ' escorting guests'. 
From the story about the Vilna Ga'on we learn that inviting guests without escorting them is destructive and not a mitzvah. It is playing with fire- eshel without the lamed is esh=fire. The mitzvah of inviting guests – hachna'sat orchim is dependent and hinges on the quality of the escorting of the guests. This explains why the Rambam defines the mitzvah as escorting guests and not inviting guests.

As parents we should not only model hospitality , but allow kids to participate in the decison making, generating choices and solutions. Responsibility is learned by making decisions not by following instructions. We should reflect with our kids  on the importance making guests feel comfortable , showing an interest in them , putting food and drink on the table and also reflect how a guest would feel if he has to show himself out of the home.

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