Hachnassat Orchim, welcoming guests, is one of the better known mitzvot. For many, this is also one of the easiest. After all, who doesn’t enjoy having people over, acting as host, and sharing a hearty meal.
There is, however, a lesser known part of the mitzvah of welcoming guests that requires the hosts to escort their guests part of the way out when they leave. According to the sages, a person should walk their guests at least daled amot (approximately 8 feet) beyond the front door. By escorting someone out, the host accords the guests an extra measure of courtesy and expresses the host’s desire that the visit not end. Additionally, it shows the host’s wish to ensure the security of his/her guests.
The mitzvah of escorting a guest is derived from two separate narratives in the Torah. In Genesis 18, Abraham was visited by three men (angels according to the Midrash). After finishing the meal, the men rose to leave for the city of Sodom. Scripture informs us that “Abraham went with them to send them on their way.” Thus, Abraham, the epitome of the perfect host, teaches us this important aspect of the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim.
Escorting guests and ensuring their safety is derived as well from Deuteronomy 21, which describes the repercussions of finding a dead body in an open area between two cities. The city to which the body is closest is held responsible for the murder since it is suspected that the city did not provide an escort for the safety of its guests, thus indirectly causing the murder.
In this way, as in so many others, Torah law demonstrates the importance of treating others with respect and dignity.
This treat was originally posted on November 13, 2008.
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