By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
The mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim in its purest form consists of hosting and serving the needs of those who are destitute and have no place to eat or sleep. In the olden days, before the proliferation of inns or hotels, a Jew who had found himself stuck in an unfamiliar village would be at the mercy of the villagers to let him in for the night. Such a person had no choice but to randomly knock on a Jewish home, potentially at any hour of the day or night, and hope that the homeowner would welcome him in to stay the night. Some authorities hold that every community has an obligation to build a hotel that guests to the city would be able to make use of.
There is a misconception that today’s widespread practice of inviting a family or even a few different guests to one’s home for a Shabbat meal is the fulfillment of the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. Many authorities contend that in our society, inviting friends over to our home to eat, drink, or even sleep, who could have just as well eaten or slept in their own home, is nothing more than a social gesture, and is not true fulfillment of the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim. Nevertheless, some authorities do append such social gatherings to the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim, insisting that social bonding is to be considered a component of Hachnassat Orchim as well.
Some authorities rule that it is a fulfillment of Hachnassat Orchim to invite over a friend whose spouse is out of town, or a family whose home is under construction. So too, inviting over newcomers to the neighborhood with the purpose of making them feel welcome is also considered to be the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim. We learn from none other than the infamous Lavan that relatives should get extra special treatment when they are our guests.
Though hosting any friend or neighbor is certainly praiseworthy and may be deemed a component of the mitzva of Hachnassat Orchim, one should also endeavor to provide for one’s guests according to their financial status and expectations. One should not accept payment for undertaking Hachnassat Orchim, though one who does so can still claim merit for the mitzva. It is especially auspicious to take in guests who are Torah scholars. One who is truly kind will actually go out of their way to find guests who are destitute in order to show them hospitality.
One should not ask one’s guests any questions or even a Dvar Torah if there is a chance that doing so might embarrass them due to their lack of knowledge. One must escort one’s guests out as they leave, especially if they may be in unfamiliar surroundings, and provide them with anything they may need for their journey. In fact, all travelers, or anyone else otherwise away from home, is to be treated as “needy” with all its usual halachic implications. It is considered especially meritorious to set aside a room in one’s home specifically for guests to sleep over and use.
It is interesting to note that there are a number of halachot whose regulations are relaxed in honor of guests. For example, many authorities who ordinarily prohibit one to make ice cubes on Shabbat will permit doing so in the event that they are needed for guests, and by extension, to better enhance one’s Shabbat. It is also permitted to manually exert oneself to re-arrange a room in order for guests to sleep comfortably, something otherwise forbidden on Shabbat. So too, in the event that one is pressed for time when kashering meat in preparation for cooking, one is permitted to shorten the required salting time if the meat is being served in honor of guests. It is especially important to be sure to include guests at holiday meals.
 Ahavat Chessed;Hachnasat Orchim
 Rema O.C. 333:1
 Minhag Yisrael Torah 132:7
 Maharil Likutim 60, cited in “The Right and the Good: Halacha and Human Relations”, Volume II, by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Yashar Books, 2008
 Sefer Habayit 33:note 11, cited in Halacha Encounters, Hachnosas Orchim, by Rabbi Avi Weinrib at http://www.cckollel.org/2005/parsha/bereishis/vayera-2002.html
 cited in Halacha Encounters, Hachnosas Orchim, by Rabbi Avi Weinrib at http://www.cckollel.org/2005/parsha/bereishis/vayera-2002.html
 Midrash Rabba, Bereishit, 70:13, cited in “The Right and the Good: Halacha and Human Relations, Volume II”, by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Yashar Books, 2008
 Sefer Hachaim 3:3
 Yesh Nochalin, Tzedaka, cited in Ahavat Chessed
 Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:197
 Berachot 10b
 Shabbat 104a
 Sefer Chassidim 312
 Rambam Avel 14:2, Sma;C.M. 427:11, Aruch Hashulchan C.M. 426:2
 Ahavat Chessed;Hachnassat Orchim
 Sota 46b
 Peah 5:4, Yesh Nochalin 2:7, Yashiv Yitzchak 12:10, all cited in “The Right and the Good: Halacha and Human relations”, Volume II, by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Yashar Books, 2008
 Ahavat Chessed;Hachnasat Orchim
 Shach;Yoreh Deah 92:29
 See “Hilchot Shabbat” by Rabbi Shimon Eider in the name of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Tzitz Eliezer 6:34
 Shabbat 126b. See also O.C. 510:9
 Rema, Y.D. 69:6
 Rambam Yom Tov 6:18