Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet, and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves…. – Genesis 18:4-5

Hachnasat orchim is such an important Jewish value that the mitzvah of welcoming guests takes precedence over Torah study and greeting the Divine presence (Shechinah) on Shabbat (BT Shabbat 127a). In their treatment of the three strangers who appear at their encampment at Mamre, our ancestors Abraham and Sarah serve as a model for hosting all visitors.

Abraham first sees the men from the entrance of his tent as they approach at midday. His invitation is quite modest – a little water, a place to sit and find relief from the heat, and a morsel of bread – but they accept. What happens next is critical. Abraham, Sarah, and their household rush to produce and serve them a sumptuous meal made from the finest ingredients (Gen 18:6-8). In going far beyond the minimum, they demonstrate true hospitality.

Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is not so meritorious. He meets two visitors to Sodom late in the day while sitting in the city gate.  To his credit, he implores them to spend the night at his home rather than in the public square.  A meal is prepared hastily for them. What are they served? Matzah! Still, compared to Sodom’s other residents, who not only offer nothing, but demand that Lot produce his guests for their pleasure (Gen 19:5), Lot’s household seems generous.

While Sodom and all its inhabitants except for Lot, his wife, and two unmarried daughters were destroyed, we continue to be blessed through the merit of Abraham and Sarah.

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