Hospitality For Growth

Lighting chanukiot at our Chanukah party.
Lighting the candles at our Chanukah party.

Long-time readers may remember my Hospitality Challenge: 16 months ago I challenged myself to grow in the mitzvah of hospitality. Yes, it is an actual mitzvah: Abraham and Sarah are famous for their hospitality. The Torah commands us to follow their example. After all, this is how all of us learn to “do Jewish:” not from a class or a book, but from observing the mitzvot with other Jews.

What I didn’t expect was that hospitality could also be an avenue for personal and spiritual growth.

Here’s where we started: I’m an introvert married to an introvert’s introvert. We are not great housekeepers, nor are we good cooks. We were both intimidated by the idea of opening our home to people who might (eep!) judge us on our housekeeping and cooking.

We’ve had fewer Shabbat guests than I originally hoped, but we have hosted more people in the past year than ever before.  We have celebrated almost every Jewish holiday with friends and family and some new friends (aka “strangers.”) Sukkot and Chanukah each saw a large gathering at the house. During the summer, I hosted regular Torah study gatherings here, and we’ve had countless folks over for an afternoon or an evening.

We’ve had great dinners, and burned dinners, gatherings where we were overrun with guests (who thought they’d all say yes?) and gatherings we canceled for lack of guests. There have been some wonderful people here, and a few who’ve been a challenge. And yet one thing has been constant: after the guests left, there was a glow that remained, a sense that home was indeed a holy place of warmth and friendship.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Nobody cares that the rabbi’s desk looks like a tag sale.
  2. If the main dish is a bust, the pizza place down the hill delivers.
  3. To carry out this mitzvah, I had to learn to ask for and accept help.
  4. People will bring food if you ask them to ahead of time.
  5. A plan for the evening is nice but not necessary.
  6. All guests go home eventually.
  7. Jewish warmth and Jewish blessings make everything glow.
  8. Jewish hospitality grows our Jewish souls.

Taking on this mitzvah has made me grow into a happier person and a better Jew. Here’s to 16 more months (and more!) of sharing the joy.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

5 thoughts on “Hospitality For Growth”

  1. This is a mitzvah I have really been working on, and it’s really nice to do, despite introversion. I think of my shabbat dinners as a kind of kiruv. Wish there were some kind of kosher restaurant or take out here though so I didn’t have to do it myself.

    1. I agree, Sara, shabbat dinners can certainly be kiruv [reaching out, drawing people closer.] Cooking for Shabbat can be a struggle if you work outside of home as well. One option is to fix something that can be prepared ahead and reheated (a hearty soup served with challah can be a nice meal.) Do you keep kosher at home?

      1. Yep, though not outside always, and still can’t always have the oven off and everything totally done for shabbat, and vegetarian too. I still feel obligated to do the whole 3-5 courses (though one goes out because no fish). I think in California generally (can’t wait to get back), there are a lot more Costco prepared salad type kosher options. That takes a lot of work off. I imagine being able to buy challah would be great too!

        The one funny thing is I hate cooking and housework and all that, but if I’m doing it for Shabbat, it’s ok.

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