Vayera – 5782 Hacnasat Horchim – הכנסת אורחים

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And he said, “My lords, if only I find favor in your eyes, do not pass from before your servant” (18:3) The Talmud (Shabbos 127a) infers from this hospitality is greater than an encounter with the Divine Presence. But how can this be? After all, the Mesillas Yesharim writes that the purpose of all mitzvos is to forge a relationship with G-d. Certainly, there can be no relationship with G-d more meaningful than a direct encounter with His Presence. If so, how can any particular mitzvah be greater than such an encounter? The Netziv explains that the issue is not which is greater, but which takes precedence. Certainly, an encounter is greater than the mitzvah of hospitality. Nevertheless, G-d wants a person to perform the mitzvah of hospitality even if it entails interrupting an encounter with the Divine Presence. Rabbi Meir Zvi Bergman offers a different solution in the name of his father-in-law, Rabbi Eliezer Shach. Hospitality, he contends, does indeed surpass an encounter with the Divine Presence. In such an encounter, a person merely stands before G-d. When he is hospitable, however, he is emulating the Attributes of G-d, and this causes him to be one with G-d, as it were. The Rebbe of Slonim offers yet another solution, by the way of a parable. A person, hearing that his friend had come to town, invited him into his home and treated him royally. A second person did the same to the son of his friend. Which of theses two people exhibit[1]ed greater devotion to a friend? Clearly, the second was the more devoted, for his devotion extended even to the children of his friend. Continues on next column The first person may have opened his home for his friend, but there is no guarantee he would have done the same for his son, with whom he enjoyed no personal relationship. In this light, we can understand why hospitality surpasses an encounter with the Divine Presence. If an encounter is an expression of devotion to G-d Himself, then hospitality is even more: so great is our love for G-d, that we are prepared even to show kindness to His children whom we know not at all.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Jonathan Horowitz