Taking care of guests, hachnasat orchim, has been a big Jewish value ever since Abraham. Ore’ach means guest in Hebrew and comes from the Aramaic word orach, “way”.
An ore’ach, then, is not just a guest, but a traveller in need of food and rest. The great 16th-century scholar Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz writes that taking in wayfarers emulates God’s care for us: “For we are all guests in regard to God, passing travellers, whom God receives.”
Our obligation to make our guests feel comfortable and welcome takes priority over most other laws. If guests arrive while you are studying Torah and there is no else to receive them, then you must break off from your learning.
Maimonides writes that accompanying your guests for a part of their onward journey is even more important than the actual hospitality. In his time, travelling was dangerous and walking a little way with your guests helped keep them safe. Today it’s a way of showing that you’re not delighted to see the back of them!
Rabbi Julian Sinclair