It was while backpacking around Europe that I first appreciated that the spontaneous hospitality practiced among Jews, which I had hereto taken for granted, was in reality truly exceptional. The friend that we had been relying on to provide Shabbat accommodations in Paris was unexpectedly out of town. There were only a few hours till nightfall and we had no place to stay.

Weeknights we didn't mind roughing it in a hostel, but for Shabbat you really need a more salubrious standard of lodging.

To the surprise of the other backpackers in the train carriage who had overheard our conversation, we weren't worried. We ascertained the address of a nearby shul (synagogue) and headed over.

Within minutes we had received three separate offers of hospitality, and it was just a matter of determining with whom we wished to stay. Our eventual host gave us the keys to his house, described the layout of his kitchen in case we were hungry and urged us to hurry home to shower and prepare while he, totally unconcerned, stayed behind studying in shul.

In truth, I, too, was raised to consider such behavior totally natural. I remember many a Friday night in my youth being stationed in the back of the shul under strict instructions from my father that "anyone walking in looking as if they have no place to eat, you get to them and invite them first." Hospitality is ingrained to the extent that on the rare occasions when my parents had no one at the table outside of family, the table felt empty, almost as if one of the essential ingredients was missing.

We read in this week's parshah how our father Abraham interrupted a conversation with G‑d in order to chase after three itinerant strangers and invite them home with him (Genesis 18:2). They turned out to be three angels in the guise of men, bearing prophecy of the impending birth to Abraham and Sarah of a son, Isaac.

Abraham, however, had no way of knowing this in advance. When he abandoned G‑d to offer hospitality to what he had to assume were mortal men, he was demonstrating to us, his descendants, a clear set of priorities.

In fact, it is from this interlude with the angels that our sages derive many of the laws governing hospitality. Interestingly, of all the attention to his guests' comfort that Abraham displayed (he ran to invite them, he personally prepared their meals and served them, he was sensitive to their culturally specific needs, he provided lodging as well as food, etc.), it is the fact that he accompanied them on their way when they left that most excites rabbinical admiration. Why so? Why should the seemingly paltry action of walking them out be treated with such significance?

Have you ever been the recipient of generosity or kindness from someone who clearly resented having to make the effort? A begrudged consideration is sometimes more unpalatable to the receiver than having to do without altogether. Abraham could have contented himself with providing his visitors with food and lodging, thereby satisfying their physical needs; but would that have demonstrated pure hospitality Jewish style? It was with the simple, seemingly unnecessary act of honor of accompanying his guests that Abraham demonstrated his true priorities: an instinctive love for one's fellow and a true desire to help for no other reason than that it is the right thing, the G‑dly thing to do.