Hospitality - taking in and taking care of guests - is a timeless Jewish value. Abraham, the first Jew, even as an old man would literally run after wayfarers and bring them to his home. Throughout history, we, his descendents, have followed in his kindly ways. The Torah teaches us the great value of being kind to strangers and doing all we can to help them feel at home.
In our story, a kid gets taken in.
"THE BEST HOTEL IN TOWN"
Gary Benson read the sign again and again, and just couldn't believe it. How could it be? He had planned for this trip down to the last detail. It was his first big trip alone out of town - as a delegate to the national Jewish Student Leadership Conference for World Improvement. He had carefully packed everything he needed, and taken all the right busses. The only problem was that he had somehow made a big mistake about the dates of the conference, and arrived a day too early. This meant not only was there no conference happening, but that the dormitory where all the delegates would be staying and eating was closed tight as a drum, and now he was stuck alone - a stranger in a strange, new city, with no place to stay!
Now what? With no other choice, Gary walked into the big, but now nearly empty Community Center building where the conference was going to be held the next day, to call his parents on the lobby pay phone. They were very concerned and told him to try to find a nearby hotel to spend the night and charge it to their credit card. He had barely hung up the phone when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
He turned to see a friendly looking kid about his age, wearing a yarmulke. "I'm sorry to butt in," he said, "but I overheard you saying on the phone that you needed a place to stay."
Gary glumly nodded. "Yeah," he sighed. "I came for the conference, and I'm kind of stuck. Do you know of a good hotel around here where I can crash for the night, and maybe a decent restaurant too?"
"A hotel? Hmm, just hang on a minute and let me make a quick call home." The boy pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, and after a brief whispered conversation, turned to Gary with a big smile. "Just follow me and I'll take you to the best place in town."
Gary and the other boy, whose name was Aaron, jumped in a taxi, and after a few minutes, the cab stopped in front of a plain-looking apartment building. Gary didn't get it.
"Hey, where are we? This place doesn't look like a hotel to me."
"I'm be happy to take you to a hotel if that's what you want," Aaron said, "but it's still early, and if you don't mind, let's just pop into my place for a bit."
Gary shrugged. Aaron seemed like an okay guy - it even turned out that he knew one of Gary's cousins - and he didn't have anything else to do, so why not?
They walked into Aaron's nice, but not fancy apartment, where his mom greeted the boys. "Sit down. You're just in time for lunch," she said, smiling, and invited them to sit down to a steaming hot meal waiting on the kitchen table. The food looked and smelled delicious, and Gary was pretty hungry after his long trip. But he had planned to eat at a restaurant and didn't want to put these nice people out. Aaron assured him it was really fine and since he was eating anyway, Gary might as well join him.
The guys ate heartily, and then Aaron showed Gary his room. It turned out they were both into tropical fish and spent a lot of time looking at Aaron's aquarium.
Gary was having a great time, but noticed on his watch it was getting late. "Aaron, it's been great, but I think I better head for the hotel, so if you don't mind..."
Just then Leah, Aaron's sister, burst in. "Okay, the guest room is all ready!"
Guest room? What was she talking about? But before he could ask, Aaron led him to a small but neat room and pointed to the cozy made bed. "Here's where you'll be sleeping tonight, Gary. I hope it will be comfortable."
What did he mean? They were gonna let him, a stranger, stay overnight at their house? "Um, no, no thanks. I can't let you do that for me. Let's just call the hotel, and..."
"No, really. We have guests all the time," assured Aaron.
"All the time? You mean this is some kind of bed and breakfast, or something?"
Aaron stifled a giggle, "Oh, yeah, I guess you could say that. Since the time of our great, great-grandfather, Abraham, who always searched for guests, a Jewish house has always been a bed and breakfast - lunch and dinner too - for whoever needs a warm meal and a soft bed. And that, my friend, includes you."
Gary was amazed. It actually did seem better than some lonely hotel, but then he remembered something. "But Aaron, I have a problem. I don't have much cash, only a credit card. Can I pay you with that?"
Aaron burst out laughing. "You can't pay us with anything. Everything's free! Hospitality is a mitzvah - it's our pleasure to follow in our forefather's footsteps."
Gary was blown away by Aaron and his family's kindness to a stranger. He knew that tomorrow, when he would finally make it to the conference on world improvement, he would have an old-new suggestion - old-fashioned Jewish hospitality - to add to the list of great ways to make the world a better place.
Q. How did Gary feel at first when he found out he had come a day too early for the conference?
A. He felt lonely, and like he had no choice but to stay alone in a hotel.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt very cared for because Aaron and his family took him in and made him feel at home.
Q. Did Aaron do the right thing by inviting Gary home?
A. Being hospitable and taking in guests is one of the greatest forms of kindnesses there is. In the ultimate sense all of us are 'guests' in God's world, and by taking care of guests we are acting in a good and Godly way.
Q. What are some ways we can practice hospitality?
A. One way is that whenever we have a friend over our house, we should offer him a snack and a drink right away, and when appropriate, a meal. When he leaves, we should walk him to the door, and even accompany him on their way a bit when he walks out. A general rule is: when anyone steps foot into our home we should make an effort to make him feel like a welcome guest rather than an intruder.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In the Torah portion we see that Abraham jumped up in the middle of having a deep, mystical encounter with God, to instead serve a few dirty-looking travelers who were passing by his tent. Our sages teach us from here that hospitality to strangers is a more spiritual act than having a one-on-One with God? Why do you think that is? Do you agree?
A. True connecting with God means coming to behave with others more and more in the way He behaves with us. God is the ultimate giver and doer of kindness, and Abraham knew that even though he was having an awesome experience right then of coming close to God, that it would be higher still to give it up for the sake of acting Godly and offering his help to others.
Q. Does this mean that we should scoop up every street person we see and plunk them down into our living room?
A. Even though there were (and are) great people whose love for humanity is so strong that they would do just that, this is obviously not for most of us. However, we should learn to gradually stretch ourselves and open our homes and our hearts to an ever widening circle of people whose lives could be made better with our help.