Vayeira for Tweens: Welcoming Guests

Vayeira, Genesis 18:1–22:24

D'Var Torah By: Barbara Binder Kadden, RJE


"Looking up, [Abraham] saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, 'My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.'" (Genesis 18:2-3)


Rashi, the Commentator of commentators, was a master of putting Torah in context. We will honor his teaching as we try to do the same.

Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent when three strangers approached. He rushed out to greet them and welcome them to his home. He invited them to bathe their feet and to recline beneath the shade of a tree. He also offered them food. They graciously accepted Abraham's hospitality. Abraham then asked his wife to prepare bread and his servant boy to prepare a calf.


In this parashah we learn about the mitzvah of Hakhnasat Orchim—welcoming guests. Abraham showed enormous kindness to the three guests. He could easily have ignored them, but chose to go out and welcome them.


In the midrash, which are stories about stories in the bible, it is told that Abraham's tent was open on all four sides (Genesis Rabbah 48:9). This allowed Abraham to let any passing stranger know that s/he was a potential guest. Also, Abraham could see people in all directions. He could then go out from his tent and offer them food, drink and a place to rest.

Abraham did not fulfill the mitzvah of Haknasat Orchim alone; he involved his family. He asked his wife Sarah to prepare the bread and his servant-boy to prepare a calf. A 10th century Torah commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki also known as Rashi, suggests that the servant-boy was actually Ishmael, Abraham's son. Rashi explains that Abraham asked Ishmael to help so that the boy would learn the importance of welcoming guests.

Abraham is a role model for us. He treats guests kindly by welcoming them into his home. We learn from Abraham's behavior that when we meet someone new we should treat him or her with kindness. This applies to a new classmate, a new neighbor, someone who has just joined your synagogue or someone you know from a distance but would like to get to know better. We also learn from Abraham that a person should involve his or her family in the doing of mitzvot. Abraham included his wife and servant-boy in welcoming the strangers by asking them to help prepare the meal.

To Talk About.

a. With older children (10+)

  1. Describe the best invitation you ever received to go and visit someone. What made it the best?
  2. Design a welcome mat for your front door that illustrates the mitzvah of Haknasat Orchim—welcoming guests.
  3. How do you determine the difference between "a stranger as a friend you have not yet met" and "a stranger you should stay away from"?
  4. Think of times that you have been a guest or a host. How do you think individuals should behave when in those positions? Create behavior guidelines for guests and hosts. As you write, remember the kindness that Abraham bestowed on his three guests and the manner in which they accepted his hospitality.

b. With younger children (6-9)

  1. In the midrash we learned that Abraham's tent was open on all four sides, so that travelers would know they were welcome. Take out your drawing supplies and design a home from which you could easily see and welcome guests.
  2. Using Abraham as an example of someone who welcomes guests to his home, suggest at least three ways you could welcome someone who is new to your classroom.
  3. Imagine that you are a guest at someone's home for a birthday party. How do you think a birthday party guest should behave?
  4. When do you do make a guest feel special in your home?
Reference Materials

Vayeira, Genesis 18:1–22:24 
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 122–148; Revised Edition, pp. 121–148; 
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 85–110

Originally published: