Come On In

Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them.… (Genesis 18:2)

This is a classic text illustrating the Hebrew mitzvah (works of charity) of hachnasat orchim, ″the welcoming of guests″…HOSPITALITY — one of the most important spiritual imperatives in Judaism and Christianity.

It is interesting to note that it is a man (Abraham) who is at the center of the story. Three strangers walk by his tent, and Abraham initiates HOSPITALITY—in a hurry. The key to understanding the text and the underlying message of the story are the verbs used to describe Abraham’s actions: he ran, he rushed, he hastened. ″Quick! ″ He cajoles Sarah. The Hebrew verbs are even more dramatic: vayaratz, vayimaheir, mahari! The word for ″run″ is used twice, ″rushed″ three times, and ″fetch″ four times (Genesis 18:2-8).

The biblical commentators have a field day with this story. What was Abraham’s situation as he sat in the heat of the day at the entrance of his tent (Genesis 18:1)? Turn back to the end of the previous chapter, and we learn that Abraham had just circumcised himself at the age of ninety-nine! Moreover, Abraham was occupied with another visitor: ″The Lord appeared to him …″ (See Genesis 18:1). Rashi, the great medieval Hebrew commentator, points out that Abraham was healing; hence, the imperative of bikkur cholim, ″visiting the sick.″ Other commentators imagine that Abraham was either praying or mediating… spending time in God’s Presence! And yet, when the three complete strangers come into view, we imagine Abraham turning to God and saying, ″Excuse me, Lord, gotta go!″ and rushing off to greet them… Oh, by the way, one further observation…Abraham has NO idea who these strangers are; he has NO clue that they are ″angels of God″ sent to announce that Abraham will, at long last, have an heir. To Abraham, they are simply travelers in need of a rest, and he implores them to enjoy his HOSPITALITY. From this example, the Talmud (during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry in Jerusalem) teaches a remarkable lesson: ″Welcoming strangers [hachnasat orchim] is a greater mitzvah (work of charity) than welcoming the Shechinah [God’s Presence]″ (Shabbat 127a).

WOW! WOW! What a lesson for us at TSH! Our true spirituality and love for the Lord is seen in how we treat our fellow members of the human race – BTW, this lesson from the Talmud is reflected in Hebrews 13:1-2, which reads “Let brotherly love continue. Do NOT forget to show HOSPITALITY to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” I have often wondered why Christians seem to have lost the spiritual practice of hospitality.

On airplanes, in elevators, even walking down the street, we rarely engage the stranger. Perhaps the Abrahamic DNA for hospitality has been dulled from individualism or isolation or persecution and/or fear of the stranger. For some of us it is not easy to approach unfamiliar people. And yet, the simple act of smiling, extending a hand, sharing a word of welcome can be the first step in a new relationship--between us and our fellow man [Hebrew: bein adam l′chaveiro].

For each of us individually, and for us collectively to create sacred communities of welcome, we would be well served to emulate the model of Abraham, the greatest greeter in the OT


  • Adapted from DR. Ron Wolfson’s commentary in the Modern Men's Torah Commentary