By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 24, 2009

The High Holy Days are a time of coming together as a family and community. The massive entertaining involved gives us a chance to do the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim — taking in guests.

An orayach is a guest. It derives from the biblical word orach, meaning “way”. “The orach of the righteous is like a ray of light,” declares Proverbs 4:18. Deborah the Prophetess describes the desperate situation before she rose to power: people were afraid to travel on the open road: “Caravans (arachot) ceased, and wayfarers went by crooked paths (also arachot)” (Judges 5:6).

Although derech is the preferred word for “way” in Hebrew today, orach is still used in expressions such as over-orach, meaning passer-by. L’arayach is to host, and lehitarayach means to be hosted.

The most famous act of hachnasat orchim was when Abraham invited three angels in the guise of desert travellers into his tent. The Talmud comments, “Greater is hachnasat orchim than receiving the countenance of the Divine Presence.”

These days most of our guests are friends and family — perhaps not in risk of heat-stroke or dehydration but still no less in need of the warmth of community and strengthening of the bond of Jews to one another.

Last updated: 10:28am, September 24 2009