Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hachnasas Orchim

For this week's parsha, parshas vayeira, a couple of stories on the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim; hospitality and opening one's house to others. The parsha starts off by saying that G-d appeared to Avraham (to visit him on the third day after his circumcision), and almost immediately goes on to talk about three visitors that were passing by Avraham's tent. And from this we derive the rule "gadol hachnasas orchim mikabalas pnei ha'shechinah, greater is the mitvah of having guests than welcoming the Divine Presence," because as soon as he saw the potential guests, he took leave of G-d.

There was a businessman traveling on a cold wintery night through the town of Gostynin. Too cold to travel on to the next town, he looked for a house with candles still burning inside. It was late into the night, but there was one house with a flickering of light at the window. He knocked on the door, and was warmly welcomed in by Reb Yechiel Meir. Now, he had no idea who this man was had just taken him in, but was joyed to find hard drink and refreshments on the table taken out immediately for his sake. But after eating and drinking he was still hungry. Reb Yechiel Meir found some uncooked porridge in the cabinet, and a pan of fat lying on the stove. Not knowing much about the finer points of cooking, he threw them together and put the dish into the oven to bake. The visitor wolfed down the entree, and was sated. Reb Yechiel Meir then gave the man his own bed to sleep in, and with wet clothing and galoshes he fell into bed and slept soundly. Reb Yechiel Meir had nowhere to sleep now, so he stayed up for the night. In the morning, he instructed his family not to go into his room, and he himself walked on tiptoe until he left for shacharis (morning prayers). The man later got up, and made his way to shul, as well. Telling some of the people after davening about his inordinately giving host, he discovered that he had slept in none other than the Rebbe's house! He made his way to the Rebbe at the front of the shul and, with quivering lips, manged to say, "please Rebbe, forgive me. I did not know that it was the Rebbe that I had put through so much trouble!" Reb Yechiel Meir responded, "I'm sorry, but I am not able to accept your apology on this." Stupefied, the man begged, this time with a stutter. Reb Yechiel Meir responded to the man's plea by saying, "I cannot accept your apology unless you agree to one condition." Now, highly intimidated, the man took a nice big gulp, and responded, "O..O...K." "You must promise me that any time you pass through Gostynin, you stay at my home at a guest. Because when else do I have the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim in such a fashion??"

Reb Eliezer, father of the Ba'al Shem Tov, was known for the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. He would go so far as to send out emissaries to the town's crossroads, in order to see if anybody passing through might need a meal or refreshments, or even a place to stay for the night. He was also known for giving out money to travelers for provisions for the road. His actions were so great that his name became known up above. It was decided that he would be put to the ultimate test. The Satan immediately came forward and volunteered to carry out this test. But Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) said that it would be more proper for he himself to go down to this world. And so it was.

One day on shabbos, Reb Eliezer got a knock on the door. He opened it to find a disheveled and slightly confused-looking man holding a sack over his back with a walking stick in hand. He was clearly being mechalel shabbos (desecrating the Sabbath). But Reb Eliezer promptly invited him in, prepared the third meal of shabbos for him to eat, and did not say one word to put him to shame. After shabbos he lavished him with a melavah malkah (meal that symbolizes taking leave of shabbos), and the man ate his fill. In the morning, Reb Eliezer gave the man some money for his upkeep, and escorted him to the door. Walking over the threshold he turned back to Reb Eliezer, and said, "you should know that I am Eliyahu HaNavi, and I have come down to give you a test. You did not make me feel ashamed, and due to this, you have been found worthy to beget a son who will illuminate the eyes of all of Israel." The blessing was subsequently fulfilled, and Reb Eliezer's wife gave birth to a baby boy within the year. Little did they know just how much light and fire he would bring to Israel and just how far it would spread.

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