We see an example of visiting the sick in the opening lines of this week’s Parsha, Vayera. God visits, through messengers, the recuperating Abraham. The Rambam, Maimonides, writes that Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick, is a Mitzvah from the rabbis, not from Torah. He continues with the discussion of other mitzvot such as comforting the mourner, and concludes these mitzvot are from the rabbis as they are part of the mitzvah from the Torah of loving your neighbor as yourself. The Rambam seems to contradict himself. If Bikur Cholim is part of the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow man, why does he say that it is a rabbinic mitzvah? One answer is that the Rambam understands there is a general mitzvah to love one’s fellow human, but the specific ways of fulfilling it were enacted by the rabbis.
We also see here the mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim, the welcoming of guests in our home. Abraham runs to provide hospitality to the messengers! This mitzvah was also described by the Rambam as within the rubric of “V’ahavta L’rai’acha Kamocha,” to love your neighbor as yourself. We should actually look at this mitzvah as bearing a similarity to the mitzvah of welcoming Shabbat. Perhaps Shabbat is especially aligned with Hachnassat Orchim as we are involved in Kabbalat Shabbat, greeting the Shabbat. The Rambam describes how the Mitzvah of honoring Shabbat includes washing, dressing up, and “sitting seriously as one waiting to greet the King. The early Sages would gather their disciples, cloaked in Talitot, and say, ‘Let us go out to greet the Shabbat, the King.’” We relate to Shabbat as a personality not just as a particular mitzvah performed on a particular day. Shabbat is defined as hosting the honored Divine Guest visiting our home. It is in a way Hachnassat Orchim for the Almighty. Inviting guests then is the essence of Shabbat. Inviting human guests might even go a step beyond welcoming the Divine Presence. Our Sages teach us, based on Avraham’s zealous acts, that receiving guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence. Avraham interrupted his prophetic experience to race and greet the three guests. Inviting guests – people who are God’s creations, His children – is an even greater sign of our love of Hashem than actually receiving the Divine Presence. We love Hashem so much that we are always ready to open up our homes to His children.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman