HOSPITALITY

The Talmud (see, for example, Makot 23b) states that Moses received 613 mitzvot (commandments).  However, these mitzvot are not enumerated in the Talmud.  The standard list was later prepared by Maimonides (Rambam = Rabbeinu Moshe ben Maimon) and it may surprise many to learn that what we call the mitzvah of hospitality (hakh-na-sat  or-him) is not listed as a mitzvah.
Indeed, not every good deed is a commandment.  For example, good manners and courtesy are important and endorsed, because they make people happier and the world a better place to live, but if you choose not to hold the door open for somebody who walks behind you, you do not commit a sin.
The Torah (as well as subsequent Jewish teachings) teaches us good manners and desirable conduct through stories about virtuous people.  After his circumcision, at the age of 99 (Genesis 17:24), Abraham rests at the entrance to his tent.  It is a hot day, he is not feeling very well, and he sees three people, strangers to him, standing outside in the heat.  The old man immediately runs to greet them and invites them to be his guests, wash, rest and eat.  In order to convince them to accept his invitation, he indicates that it will not be a burden:  "Let some water be taken, and wash your feet, and rest under the tree.  And I shall fetch a morsel of bread for you to eat and then go on ..." (Genesis 18:4-5).  But when they accept, he calls upon his family to prepare together a large meal, freshly made for his guests.  Then, he himself waits on them while they dine.
For the sake of a good deed -- hospitality, Abraham ignored his soreness, his age, the heat.  There were many good excuses which he could use to remain at rest, but he was looking for virtues, not excuses.  At that time, he did not know that the three strangers were messengers from God.
The mitzvot, regardless of their listed number, are not intended to restrict.  The goal, as stated many times in our Torah, is to be holy.  We get closer to this goal, and closer to God, by following the commandments, by refraining from sins and by making the world a better place through our good deeds.

-- Judah Ari-Gur

 

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