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Limmud Torah (Torah Study):  The Practice of Hospitality in Judaism. #1

By Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Sunday, 10/07/18

Bereishit (Genesis) 18:1-8 – The practice of hospitality in Judaism originates with Avraham and Sarah.

“God appeared to him [Avraham] in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to the tent in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and there were three men standing before him. He saw them and ran to greet them from the entrance to the tent and bowed toward the ground. He said: “My Lord, if I have found favor in Your eyes, please do not leave your servant.”

“Take some water and wash your feet, and rest under the tree. I will fetch some bread and you will satiate yourselves, then go on – in as much as you have passed your servant’s way.” They said, ‘Do so, just as you have said.’”

“So, Avraham hurried to the tent, to his wife Sarah, and said, “Hurry! Three measures of fine flour – knead them and make cakes!” Then Avraham ran to the cattle, took a good, tender calf and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it. He took cream and milk, as well as the calf which he had prepared, and he placed these before them. He stood before them, under the tree, and they ate.”

ַThe rabbinic commentary on this story is extremely rich. I will unpack that commentary in future offerings.  Centuries of commentary on this story and the continued practice of hospitality of Jews over centuries also influenced the codification of hospitality into Jewish law. The great Jewish code of law by Maimonides builds on hundreds of years of discussion to argue that hospitality is an application of the passage in Leviticus 19: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (verse 18).

Maimonides understands this famous verse as placing an obligation on each of us to perform acts of kindness. (See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Aveil/Laws of Mourning 14:1-3, http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/e414.htm ). Rambam lists several acts of kindness which he labels as mitzvot-commandments.  Among the list are 1. Providing hospitality to guests.  2. Escorting guests upon their departure.

The second one might surprise to you, but “Livui” accompanying” is also the derivation of the Jewish/Hebrew name for a funeral (levaya) which literally means to accompany the dead out of this world.