What My Family Gained from the Mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim

29 Oct 2015

In this week’s Parsha we learn all about the mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim from our forefather Avraham. My family really enjoys this mitzvah. Our morning blessings state that for this mitzvah, “man receives his reward in this world and the world to come.” We find this to be really true. While I hope that we will receive reward in the World To Come, we certainly have reaped many rewards in this world.

We live in a small out-of-town community and there is often a need for “home hospitality” i.e. Hachnassat Orchim, over Shabbat or Yom Tov. As a result, we have met a lot of people over the years who have come to our home for a Shabbat or Yom Tov. Sometimes they spend time with us as part of our family and sometimes they’re with us just for a place to sleep while visiting others. I am glad to note that ninety-nine percent of those interactions have been positive. It has been quite a ride.

We have learned to be grateful. Through the Jewish Federation, our town has a sister city in Israel, and another sister city in the Former Soviet Union. Any time there is a Shomer Shabbos representative, we get them. From Israel, we have had Avigail, Eliyahu and Aviad the kibbutznik farmer. He regaled us with stories about his donkey, named Chamor, of course! All of them have helped us understand the challenges in their own Jewish communities, which make our problems seem trivial.

We have been inspired. From FSU, our most memorable guest was Alex, a Baal Teshuva. He told us that he was a teen when the Jewish school in his city opened. His mother wanted to send him but was nervous it would be too Jewish. She sent him to a psychologist who told her that he would not be overly influenced by the school and gave her the green light to send him. Slowly, he made his way back to Judaism and now supervises a Shabbat apartment that serves Shomer Shabbat singles and families, so that they can enjoy and keep Shabbat together. His dvar Torah in his heavily accented Russian was intelligent and thoughtful and he spent the afternoon with his head buried inside his Gemara next to my boys. I especially liked him, because he loved my food. I am not the most inspired cook and these compliments come in short order. I know he eats a simple Russian diet, but still, a compliment is a compliment.

We have laughed… Sam, an organic farmer, turned lawyer who tsked tsked when he saw my vegetable garden overgrown in weeds and my puny tomatoes with the non-organic fertilizer. I overlooked this, mostly because he was right and he put up with our kids’ bad jokes and shared with us, what he called his “boring Bal Tshuva” story. It went like this: A close relative of his passed away and he started thinking about the meaning of life and starting searching. He found Chabad on his college campus and became frum. He told us that he wished his return to Torah had more thrill to it. So we spent many hours coming up with crazy stories. Our favorite: he was visiting a top-secret nuclear reactor plant. Suddenly all the alarms go off. He hears the following over the loudspeaker “ Take cover! The end of the world is here.” The next thing he knows he passes out but then wakes up alive! This life-altering experience leads him to search out his authentic Jewish roots.

We have played matchmaker… We have hosted boys who come in for shidduch dates. We get to preview them and send texts to the girls, giving them the heads up. We will also dispense advice as needed, letting boys’ know their collars are up, not to go to the coffee shop since it’s too busy and what their prospective date’s taste in music is like.

We have learned a lot from our guests:

The practical: How to fist pump, and tricks to playing the card game SET and Settlers of Catan.

The spiritual: The importance of making six-braided challah with a complete tutorial and breadmaking and Hafrashat Challah demonstration.

The eco-friendly: How to make compost out of your garbage, and how to shower in two minutes so not to waste water. (There was no hands-on demonstration of that technique!)

The cerebral: The chemistry teacher who tried to help me understand the properties of ions and protons using our window fan as a prop. He was unsuccessful, but still a pleasure to have.

The fashionable: How to straighten your hair easily in 10 minutes before Shabbat and the best place to buy pantyhose and shells online.

We have had rabbis, yeshiva students, and kollelnicks. We have had bio-chemists, physicists, a Harvard professor, a retired Mossad agent (we think) and medical students in for their interviews with the many top-notch hospitals in town. We have had college students, dental school students, law school students, nurses and one woman doing her residency in emergency room medicine. Unfortunately, on that particular Shabbat, as the resident turned over on the high-riser, half of it collapsed and she slept on the bed at a 45-degree angle. She assured us that she was so tired she did not even wake up. She was just happy to be somewhat prone.

We have had bloggers, fundraisers, high tech consultants, and one movie star—okay they were very distantly related to a movie star—but good enough. We have newlyweds in for their Sheva Brochos and groups of boys or girls in for weddings, Shabbatons, aufrufs, etc.

One of our most memorable guests was a 6’7 Californian cousin who was driving cross country. He was really tall. He got the Frisbee and kite that we had thought were lost forever off of our roof and with flipped my kids over with one hand so they could walk on the ceiling.

We have also suffered through some delicately and not-so-delicately given constructive criticism. These were the complaints that we have gotten:

Our Mezuzahs were in the wrong place and we did not have enough of them. (Checked with our rabbi and he said we were fine).

There is a dearth of full-length mirrors. (We now have four of them.)

Our towels were thin. (Got better towels.)

Lighting in the bathroom was poor. (Upped the voltage.)

Too hot. (Fans were installed.)

It has been a privilege to hosts all our wonderful guests, many of whom are now friends. They have assured us that anytime we are in their neck of the woods, we have a home away from home. If that isn’t worth it, then I don’t know what is.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.