Hachnasat Orchim & Shabbat
The Special Connection between Shabbat and Inviting Guests:
There is something special about hachnasat orchim, hosting guests, on Shabbat. Even people who host infrequently during the other six days of the week, often feel something is missing if they do not have Shabbat guests at their table.
What is the explanation for this special connection between hachnasat orchim and Shabbat? There certainly are practical reasons – 1. There is more time available for hosting on Shabbat than during the rest of the week; 2. It is convenient to invite guests on the day that we are anyways preparing special meals; 3. The mitzva of eating the Shabbat meals is often more joyfully fulfilled in a larger group and in a family setting.
A suggestion for explaining this phenomenon: Perhaps Shabbat is especially aligned with hachnasat orchim (not only a practically appropriate time to fulfill the mitzva of hachnasat orchim). Shabbat has a unique aspect that other mitzvot do not – “Kabbalat Shabbat”, Greeting the Shabbat. The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Shabbat 30:2) describes how the mitzva of honoring Shabbat includes washing, dressing up, and “sitting seriously as one waiting to greet the King. The early sages would gather their disciples, cloaked in talitot and say, ‘Let us go out to greet the Shabbat the King.’”
We relate to Shabbat as a personality, not just as a particular mitzva performed on a particular day (this theme is developed by the author of “Shabbat Malketa” in his chapter on Kabbalat Shabbat). On Shabbat there is a special revelation of the Divine Presence, and the personality we welcome is the Shechina. [In a yahrzeit shiur in memory of his father (published in Shiurim L’zekher Avi Mori) Rav Soloveitchik points out the parallels between Shabbat preparations and preparations for prayer. He then shows how the distinction between Shabbat and Yom Tov is parallel to that between a synagogue and the Beit Hamikdash.]
Shabbat is defined as hosting the honored Divine guest visiting our home. It is, in a way, hachnasat orchim for the Shechina. Inviting guests, then, is the essence of Shabbat.
Inviting Guests is Greater than Receiving the Divine Presence
Inviting in human guests might even go a step beyond welcoming the Divine Presence. Chazal teach us, based on Avraham’s seemingly offbeat conduct, that receiving guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence. Avraham interrupts his prophetic experience to run and greet the three guests. Why did Avraham do this and what is behind Chazal’s seemingly radical statement?
The Nesivos Shalom explains: One shows a good friend how beloved he is by inviting him in to his home, showing him great hospitality. However, if a friend is especially dear, even if the friend’s son shows up at your door you receive him with open arms, merely because he is your friend’s son. Inviting in guests, people who are G-d’s creations, His children, is an even greater sign of our love of G-d than actually receiving the Divine Presence. We love G-d so much that we are always ready to open up our homes to His children. This is why inviting in guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence.
A story found on Nishmas Chayim web site at http://www.nishmas.org/stories/loveshab.htm
Nishmas Chayim, http://www.nishmas.org, a significant web resource on Chassidut, is maintained by former Darche Noam staff member Rav Binyomin Adilman.