Hachnassat Orchim – Vayera
I hope someone out there will still want to be my guest after reading this title! But on a serious note, one of the special blessings that a guest brings along with him is the potential for the host to lose himself, and find himself anew – is one of the special gifts that a guest brings along with him to someone else’s abode.
I’m used to myself, comfortable with my worldviews and habits. A guest invites me to open up, listen, learn, be exposed to new thoughts and concepts, and dare to change. Discussion doesn’t take place in a café or on neutral territory, but in my own private abode, around my dining room or kitchen table.
A guest opens the door for me to lose myself, to change my thoughts, my ways, my pace, to leave comfort behind and change direction in order to discover the new and beautiful.
Good Teachers Teach for Life
A good teacher is one whose lessons remain with us long after graduation; it’s the teacher whose lesson remains for life.
Who were the paragons of hosting? Avraham and Sarah, of course.
The Torah relates that Avraham was “Sitting at the entrance of the tent at the heat of the day.” Rashi elucidates that Avraham positioned himself purposely at the entrance of his tent in order “To see if there would be a passerby whom he could invite into his home.”
“And behold there are three men…And he ran to greet them… Please take a bit of water… And I will take a loaf of bread, and you shall feast your hearts … And he hurried… to Sarah… Knead and prepare cakes… And he took a young bull, soft and good… and he took butter and milk…”
Avraham begins with a modest invitation, offering plain bread and water; but actually, both he and Sarah go completely out of their way, preparing a sumptuous banquet for their anonymous guests who ultimately relay the wonderful news that Sarah will bear a son.
The Guest Room
What a beautiful, telling name. It’s straightforward and direct, perhaps lacking the flair of the copywriter’s pen, but replete with love and warmth. When I build a home for myself and my family, I reserve one special corner of the house for others, eagerly imagining the day when I will be fortunate to host my guests. How can I design the room, what can I place inside, to make my guests feel at home?
Obviously, feeling at home doesn’t mean meeting heaping laundry piles on the couch… It means being greeted to a pleasant, neat room, a welcoming bed and the warm feeling that someone is waiting for me and is happy to host me.
Not every home features a guest room or private bathroom. Most Israeli apartments are relatively small, and hosts have no choice but to vacate a children’s room or home office to accommodate their guests. Occasionally, hosts require that designer’s touch in order to position the maximum number of beds into a room without making it feel crowded. They need to find a place to store extra mattresses and chairs and choose a table that can be extended to accommodate guests.
Rooms & Corners
In the Israeli lexicon, apartments feature bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms and a pinat ochel, literally ‘an eating corner.’ It’s really quite ironic considering that food and feasting assume a very essential role in Jewish tradition with our weekly Shabbat meals and seasonal holidays! In contrast, the English language labels the same area in the house the ‘dining room,’ a term demonstrating understanding of the culture of food and feasting, and appreciation that dining together has tremendous significance, both as a family and with guests. Just as there is a bedroom for sleeping, a laundry room for laundry, and a kitchen for cooking, there is a special room in the house designated for eating together.
In Grandma’s Kitchen…
A dining room may call to mind formal images of long tables, quiet, solemn meals and children who should be seen but not heard. In contrast, there’s the warm, cozy image of Grandma’s Kitchen, milk and cookies, and long heart-to-heart discussions over steaming cups of coffee…
Fortunately, we’re able to merge these two opposite images, allowing respect and class to unite with comfort and happy, joyous conversation, all in one special place in the house where hosts and guests can connect, forge and deepen their relationship. This can happen even in houses too small to accommodate real ‘dining rooms,’ homes that require that dynamic designer’s eye to plan the layout of a pinat ochel that allows hosts to extend their table, add chairs and impart a feeling of being welcome both in the heart and home.
It’s the Little Things…
There’s nothing like coming for Shabbat and finding a platter of cake and handwritten welcome note in the apartment or a pretty basket of soaps and embroidered towels neatly folded on the beds…
These are all special, poignant messages, reminders that the extra moment of thought, and the extra bit of effort in styling goes a long way in making a guest feel right at home.