Hachnasat Orechim

     Good afternoon, all! As I’m typing this, I’m camped out in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, PA. It is biting cold outside, so I’m nursing a hot cup of Earl Grey. After I ordered, the barista smiled and said, “You’re an adventurer.”

“Adventurer? How do you know?” I asked with a bemused smirk.

She shrugged, “You just give off that air, and you ordered an Earl Grey.”

Off-topic? Not exactly.
This was more than kindness and levity with a customer- it was humanity. Especially around this time of year, whether or not one celebrates any holidays in particular, I’ve noticed people start to either compress and disguise their humanity or they put it out on display.

Perhaps it’s the chilly weather of this time of year, reminding some primitive, animal part of us of the necessity to huddle together for warmth.
Perhaps in the proximity of New Year’s, and we band together to recognize the incessant march of time- whether we see it as having survived another year, having lost another year on our way to the grave, or- in the best case- we see it as having lived another year and grown one year wiser.

As I hopped on the PATCO train into the city, I got one with a group of quiet fellow travelers, all of us keeping very much to ourselves to the next stop. At the next stop, a massive group of travelers came on board, including at least 6 very loud children and 5 very loud and excited adults. They were apparently on their way to a light show- a family tradition for them this time of year. At once, I could have imagined that most of my quiet companions would be irritated at the sudden raucous noise. Instead, as I looked around, I realized we were all showing the same knowing glance and smile, silently saying “Awww… what a happy family, traveling all together. It’s like a Lifetime movie!”

Chance smiles and words create warmth. I never met any of those people before, and probably never will again- but for 10 minutes, we were companions.

The title of this entry is Hebrew (written as “הכנסת אורחים.”) It is one of the 613 mitzvot (commandments enumerated in the Torah,) and literally means “inviting guests” or, colloquially “hospitality.” The commandment came from a time when companionship and kindness from strangers was not just something mannerly, it was vital to survival. It was no unusual act of kindness to give a stranger aid, or food, or a place to stay the night- it was a fact of civilization, as much of a commonplace rule as stopping for a red light.

This time of year, time, weather, mortality, religion, and society tries to nudge us toward remembering this. I’ve said before and again that feeding people is more than nourishment- it is a social interplay, and a meeting of humanity. As my great grandparents would say, “Hospitality is a form of worship.”

This time of year, in between the movie marathons, Road Warrior on the highways trying to get home, and last-minute dashes to engage in an orgy of gift buying- stop somewhere, sit awhile, and just have a kind word and smile for people.

And mean it.

See what happens- you’ll love it.

Stay Classy,