His hallmark was his open-tent policy. He pitched his non-profit hospitality in the middle of the desert, and pulled in every traveler and nomad for a hot meal and a night’s rest.

Some considered him an extremist. Once he was in the middle of a chat with G‑d Himself when some travelers appeared in the distance. He excused himself and ran off to invite in the guests! To Abraham, hospitality was greater even than communion with G‑d.

The tradition stayed in the family. When the Roman emperor Julian ordered the establishment of hostels for transients in every city, he referred to the example of the Jews “in whose midst no stranger goes uncared for.” Even in the worst of times, every Jewish community had a society to provide food and lodging for any traveler, without discrimination.

It’s such a great mitzvah, you don’t want to wait for someone to call and ask

How To Host

Hospitality—hachnasat orchim—is primarily fulfilled by providing for visitors from out of town. But local guests are fine, too. Since it’s such a great mitzvah, you don’t want to wait for someone to call and ask: invite them yourself, or volunteer your home to local organizations that place visitors.

Once inside, some guests are too abashed to ask for a cold drink or an extra pillow. A good host anticipates their needs.

Here’s another cue from Abraham: although he had many servants, he stood over his guests and served their needs himself. If it’s such a great mitzvah, why give it away?

When your guests leave, make sure to pack them some kosher food for the road. It’s a mitzvah to escort them to the airport, bus or train, or at least four cubits (approximately seven feet) from your home’s entrance. In fact, the reward for escorting guests exceeds the reward for everything else we afford them. It goes beyond caring for them in your town—you want to ensure they get to their next destination safe and sound.