Shemini atzeret

By Rabbi Daniel Levy, October 8, 2009

“The convert, orphan and widow, who are in your cities, will come and eat and be satisfied” Deuteronomy 14:29

What is the greatest form of simchah (joy) that a person may experience? Getting married perhaps, or having children? Maimonides enlightens us: “There is no greater or more glorious joy than to bring joy to the hearts of poor people, orphans, widows and converts” (Rambam, Laws Megillah and Chanukah 2:17).

In his Laws of Yomtov, he goes further, saying that a person who eats and drinks on festivals and does not include the widow, orphan and convert in their meals, has simply filled their stomach and not really rejoiced in the festival.

Of course, the list is not exclusive and encompasses anyone who may be lonely or benefit from an invitation over the festive period. It is easy to confuse dinner parties with this form of Jewish hospitality. However, Judaism distinguishes between inviting friends round for a pleasant evening and ensuring that those who may have nowhere to go have an enjoyable Yomtov.

It is no surprise, therefore, that so many of the Torah readings for the festivals implore us not to disregard the vulnerable and lonely. The question to ask is not, “How many people did I have at the Seder or in the Succah?” But rather “Who did I have at the table?” The same is true for Chanucah, Purim, Shabbat and other happy occasions. It may be challenging to have at one’s table people who may not “fit in” with our regular social circle, however, that is exactly what Jewish hospitality requires us to do, especially when we are enjoying ourselves.

    Last updated: 10:44am, October 8 2009