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Why Does Shabbat with Friends Emphasize the Practice of Shabbat Hospitality?

Shabbat with Friends is all about hosting people for Shabbat. Hospitality is a central act of goodness in the Jewish tradition. Called in rabbinic Judaism “hachnasat orchim”, the act of inviting guests to a meal is exemplified by Avraham and Sarah in chapter 18 of Genesis. (Click here to see the source.) There is a disagreement within the tradition about whether “hachnasat orchim” is a mitzvah (a commandment a Jew is obligated to fulfill) or an act of ‘hesed’ (lovingkindness), an act that transcends a commandment because the performer’s motivation is sparked by kindness. For example, acts of kindness are distinguished from the commandment of tzedakah as conveyed by this famous teaching in the Talmud. “Our Rabbis taught: Deeds of lovingkindness are superior to the mitzvah of tzedakah in three respects. Tzedakah can only be accomplished with money; deeds of lovingkindness can be accomplished through personal involvement as well as money. Tzedakah can be given only to the poor; deeds of lovingkindness can be done for rich and poor. Tzedakah applies only to the living; deeds of lovingkindness apply to both the living and the dead.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 49b) It must be said that when we view “hachnasat orchim” as a mitzvah, we are inclined to treat it with more seriousness. The implication is that hospitality, like tzedakah, is something we have to do as part of a way of life. If hospitality is a mitzvah, then we need to cultivate it as a central Jewish practice embedded within our lives. Shabbat with Friends embraces both views of “hachnasat orchim”. We see it as a Mitzvah, one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. But we also see it as a preeminent act of lovingkindness that brings good to the world. Because this Jewish practice can be understood both ways, we believe that this practice is a critical Jewish practice that is deserving of special attention, cultivation, and refinement. Shabbat is most suited for practicing ‘hachnasat orchim’. Shabbat meals are meant to be shared. Shabbat songs are meant to be sung together. Torah is meant to be studied together on Shabbat. Shabbat fellowship requires at least one if not more people to experience its holy joy. Hospitality infuses Shabbat with a unique spirituality that is distinctly relational and concerned with creating goodwill between people. Our mission at Shabbat with Friends is to help people rediscover hospitality as either a mitzvah and/or an act of lovingkindness. We are committed to imparting the practical skills of hosting to everyone who connects with Shabbat with Friends. As the rabbinic leader of Shabbat with Friends, I don’t encourage people to join me in a sanctuary. Instead, I join people in their homes to support their hosting. Our homes are our Shabbat sanctuary. Shabbat home hospitality is a hallmark of the Jewish way of life. At Shabbat with Friends, we will help people to host regardless of the size of your home, the size of your family, or the size of your social network. How do we do this? First, we welcome folks to host a Shabbat with Friends gathering at their residence. Our group of volunteers and experienced hosts support each new host in multiple ways, including for example helping to organize a potluck, assisting with setup and cleanup, and assisting with the Shabbat rituals. Second, we encourage people who do not have much space to entertain, to serve as a SWF cohost at venues we rent such as the JCC, local museums, or other places with space for us to gather for a Shabbat meal. By providing public spaces, we make it possible for people to come together to cohost a Shabbat gathering. Third, we encourage people to host regardless of their situation in life. It doesn’t matter to us whether you are single, married, or a family with children. We encourage people from young adulthood to old age to host by providing material support with the incentive of support, whether it is supplying tables, paper goods, benchers (Shabbat blessing books), or ritual items. Fourth, we mentor hosts to gain confidence as hosts. We offer classes in the practice of Jewish hospitality, workshops on Shabbat table song, or instruction on how to use the Bencher. We offer resources and build networks of hosts so that it will be easier to build your practice of hospitality among your circle of friends. Lastly, we mentor hosts whether they are religious or secular. We are inspired by the biblical story of Abraham’s hospitality, who was in the midst of talking with God when he saw three travelers from afar. He ran toward them to invite them into his tent for a meal. (see Genesis 18:1-2.). The Sages point out, that Abraham interrupted his audience with God to attend to his guests. This act shows that "hospitality to guests is greater than even receiving the Divine Presence". God literally comes second to practicing hospitality toward our fellows. We hope that you will consider volunteering to host a Shabbat at your home and to help Shabbat with Friends revitalize the beautiful Jewish practice of ‘hachnasat orchim.’ Check out these links about the Jewish practice of hospitality. A good summary on the practice of “hachnasat orchim.” HERE An essay by a local Reform Jewish educator on the practice of Jewish hospitality. HERE A good summary of the value of hospitality in Judaism. HERE

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