It was the Friday after Succos in the mystical city of Tzefat in northern Israel. A group of seven yeshiva students – my son among them – had traveled from their yeshiva in Jerusalem to Tzefat. There, they were approached by a family from Montreal, also on vacation, who did not know them at all. The parents pleaded with the group of seven to join them for the Shabbos dinner that evening, but the boys explained that they already had previously committed plans. Unfazed, the family insisted that they come the next day for Shabbos lunch. When they arrived the next day, the group of seven were shocked to observe that the vacationing family had invited and hosted a total of twenty-five guests!
That encounter is reminiscent of the remarkable, determined hospitality of our patriarch, Abraham, recorded in this week’s parsha. At an advanced age of ninety-nine and recuperating from a bris milah, circumcision, performed a mere three days earlier, Abraham took remarkable initiatives to actively seek guests. When the guests finally appeared in the form of unfamiliar Arabs, Abraham personally doted upon them and selflessly provided every convenience and delicacy for which one could possibly wish.
What compels such determination to seek and welcome guests even in the face of challenge? Certainly a sense of selflessness coupled with a love for humanity motivates one to engage in hachnasas orchim, hospitality. For those kind-hearted souls, the more they give of themselves, the more enhanced are their lives.
The postscript to the story in Tzefat is that the initial conversation between strangers, the hosts and their guests, took place in the proximity of a modest grocery store. Witness to the encounter and overhearing the conversation was the store’s incredibly inspired proprietor who then gifted the hosts a bottle of wine in honor of Shabbos and in honor of their guests. In case that wasn’t enough, he later presented a bottle of wine to the group of boys and said, “Take this at no charge and bring it with you to honor your hosts.”
Only in Israel? Perhaps. But this is another example of mitzvah goreres mitzvah, one good deed brings another, and positivity breeds positivity. Always.
Rabbi Simcha Dessler is menahel / education director of Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights.