Ahh…summer! For many of us, it is time of renewal, or respite. For others, life goes on pretty much as usual, hopefully with a vacation here and there. Wherever you are in your life’s journey, summer can also be a time for reconnecting with community. Longer summer days means Shabbat starts later and ends later – it is an ideal time for us to reconnecting with the mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim, of welcoming guests into our homes.
Kol Shofar is blessed with a beautiful building – we love it when the synagogue is full and bustling during the High Holy Day season, bursting with frolicking fun at Purim and when the Beit Am is filled with many lit Hanukiyot (menorahs) during our Annual Hannukah celebration. But we also know that meaningful connections outside the synagogue walls, more deeply connect us to each other. The mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim, or welcoming guests in our homes, is a mitzvah as old as Abraham! The rabbis trace the origin of this mitzvah back to the book of Genesis, when Abraham was healing from his self-circumcision (yes, this part of the Torah is often skipped in Hebrew school!). Three visitors (some say angels from God) came to see him and he rose to welcome them, wash their feet and bring them food and drink. From Abraham’s eagerness to greet these visitors, we learn that we too should welcome guests.
But it can be easier said than done! We worry our house isn’t clean enough or our apartment big enough. We worry about our cooking, we worry that we don’t know enough Hebrew to lead Shabbat blessings around a Friday night table. And the list goes on. . . Often we are judging ourselves more than others are, and it is important to remember how great it feels to be welcomed into someone else’s home. That is what really matters the most!
One of my favorite resources on this mitzvah comes from the First Jewish Catalogue by Michael Strassfeld. The article there on hakhnasat orhim recognizes the challenges to realizing this mitzvah. And, it offers practical advice too. He acknowledges that sometimes we get too busy and we overdo it with having guests. If we live with others, we need to take a step back and have some privacy again with our families, partners or housemates. There is a time to stop hosting for a bit. But, then we begin to feel that things are too “quiet” and it is time to re-introduce the mitzvah back into our lives.
For Jeff and for me, summer is such a time. It has been busy in our lives and quiet at our dinner table but this summer we re-commit ourselves to immersing ourselves in this mitzvah. I am excited about sharing Shabbat meals once again with those whom I don’t yet know or with those whom I wish to know better. Kol Shofar really does extend beyond our beautiful walls. Take advantage of this wonderful summer to invite a fellow Kol Shofar member over for Shabbat dinner, or out for coffee, just for the heck of it. You will be surprised at what you may discover about each other. Enjoy!