When asked to identify a Biblical personality associated with hospitality, there is one person whom we all would choose. Avraham Avinu, to whom we allocate the general accolade of ish chesed (man of kindness) is particularly distinguished by his hachnasat orchim (hospitality), extended (in partnership with Sarah) with enthusiasm and under difficult circumstances to the three malachim (angels).
In fact, however, there is not just one personality distinguished by commitment to hachnasat orchim but two. Avraham’s nephew Lot stands out in a society antithetically opposed to hospitality by his devotion to the care and protection of his guests.
Notwithstanding Lot’s own rather mixed moral record, I am particularly intrigued by his descendants’ notable failure to practice hospitality. In Devarim 23:5, we are told that Lot’s descendants, the Ammonites and Moabites, may not enter the congregation of Hashem because of their failure to extend hospitality to the Children of Israel.
In truth, the dissimilarity between Lot and his descendants with respect to hachnasat orchim could have been predicted from the beginning. The concept of transmitting the value of chesed to the family is palpably lacking from Lot’s lifestyle. Avraham engaging other members of his family in hospitality (the significance of which is noted by Rashi on Bereshit 18:7) serves to highlight the palpable failure of Lot to do the same. In fact, Lot’s sons-in-law stay behind in Sodom where hospitality was anathema to the cultural ethos while his wife, running for her life, looks back toward her erstwhile corrupt society.
The contrast between Avraham and Lot highlights the recognition that Avraham’s calling (and that of his descendants) lies not only in the substantive message of his life philosophy but also in his commitment to transmit this outlook and commitment to the next generation. Sandwiched between the story of Avraham’s hospitality and that of Lot is Hashem’s assertion that ‘I have known [Avraham] in order that he command his children and household after him to keep the way of Hashem and to practice tzedakah and mishpat (justice).’
As Avraham’s descendants and heirs, we inherit that mandate. How do we maximise the chances that our own values are absorbed and internalized by our children? Here are three strategies:
- Hold your children to high ethical expectations
Convey to your children that we expect them to honor their commitments, to do the right thing even when it’s hard and to be respectful. They should hear from us that we expect them to behave even if their friends are not behaving.
- Discussing Moral Dilemmas
From around six years old, children can appreciate moral reasoning.
Discuss ethical dilemmas that you have encountered at work or with friends and family. Ask your children what they would have done in that situation.
Ask them to identify ethical dilemmas that they face when interacting with their friends, teachers and siblings. Brainstorm with them as to what is the appropriate ethical behavior.
- Praise Wisely
What do you praise your children for? For doing well in school, their artistic attainments, their looks or their good character?
Let’s make sure our children know that education, sport, success and happiness are all valuable but being a good person is at the top of the list.
May Hashem bless us with success in guiding our children and may we all merit to continue the transmission of Avraham Avinu.