Hachnasat Orchim

By Lorne Opler

As we conclude reading Sefer Bereshit, the Book of Genesis, a reflection of this first book of the Five Books of Moses yields many momentous events. From the story of creation, to Noah’s Ark, to the “akeda”  or the sacrificial binding of Isaac by his father Abraham; from Jacob’s stealing the birthright from his brother Esau, to the selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers, there were so many memorable episodes that are rich with meaning and lessons to be learned.

But for me, the most memorable story of Genesis is the story of Abraham and Sarah inviting strangers into their abode to rest, relax and recover from their desert sojourn. Why does this touch me more than any of the other many stories in this book? Because of the lesson inherent in Abraham and Sarah’s gesture of chesed. From this we learned about the mitzvah of “hachnasat orchim” – or extending a welcome hospitality to others.   

Yet in my opinion, in defining this obligation of Jews to extend hospitality to others, I believe we too narrowly define and understand this mitzvah. This concept of extending hospitality deserves a deeper interpretation that goes far beyond simply inviting people into one’s home. Because, let’s be honest…how often are we able to invite people into our homes to fulfill this mitzvah? Not often. So, if we cannot or are not inviting people into our homes regularly to fulfill this mitzvah, can there be other ways, and more convenient ways to practice the obligation of extending hospitality to people…especially to those who are part of the DJC community?

The answer is a resounding yes. We can fulfill our obligation of “hachnasat orchim” within the DJC community (and beyond) by doing something so simple; in fact, something so simple that we are already doing it every day…and multiple times a day at that. What could that be?    

Text and email.

Yes, text and email.  

Think about the way we often frame our text messages and emails to people, especially the introduction. Do you notice that you (like me) may often start emails to friends, colleagues and DJC community members by saying, “I hope this finds you well,” or “hope you’re well…” It’s a polite way of initiating a conversation and is a very appropriate way to begin a business or professional correspondence. And when we send a text message, due to the brevity of this form of communication, we often dispense with the “hope you are well” introduction all together. 

But if we are messaging our friends, colleagues and those whom we care about, (and I include DJC members among those  whom we care about), there is a much more personal and thoughtful way of beginning an email or a text…a way that embodies and embraces the mitzvah of “hachnasat orchim.” So how can we show hospitality to others when writing an email in a way that conveys our interest, and a desire to connect meaningfully? By changing up our introduction.  

Instead of the perfunctory, “Hello….I hope you are doing well,” consider actually inquiring of the recipient of your message as to how they are doing. “How are you?” “How’ve you been?” “How ya doing?” This is demonstration of “hachnasat orchim” in its easiest and most effortless form because it invites the reader to respond, to share and connect with you and you to connect with them. Whereas the “hope you’re well” approach to initiating an email is a passive way of expressing nominal interest that requires no intentional investment, making the effort to actually ask someone how they are doing is a pro-active, assertive way to show you care, and that you are interested in your friend’s (or colleague’s) wellbeing. And isn’t that the essence of “hachnasat orchim.”

Moreover, choosing those three simple words to start (or end) an email or text, can have an impact well beyond its brevity, that you may not even appreciate. Consider the fact that your simple inquiry of “how are you?” may be the catalyst for the reader to open up to you… to share how they are really feeling… be it good, or not so good. If you believe that words, even the fewest of them, have the capacity to heal, then you’ll know that starting an email/text with a friendly, inquiring “how are you?” can make a difference to that recipient of your message who may have had a hard day… or going through a rough time or who may be simply be feeling lonely, alone or isolated. What if your “how are you doing…what’s new?” was the only inquiry the recipient of your email/text message had that day? Imagine how so few words could potentially make such a difference. Isn’t that the essence of “hachnasat orchim” too?   

DJC is a community. And not just any community. It’s a community of people who care about each other through our shared bonds of Jewish values, Jewish practice and Jewish obligations. What better way then to strengthen this community than by turning your emails into the mitzvah of “hachnasat orchim” by taking the time, showing the interest and practicing chesed with a “how are you?” next time you write an email.     

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