The mishna in Pirkei Avot (1:5) states: יהיביתךפתוחלרוחהויהיוענייםבניביתך "Let your home be open wide to the multitudes and treat the poor like members of your household."
Yose ben Yochanan is trying to teach us how to create an elevated home. But what do these instructions mean and what is the connection between opening up your house and treating the poor as members of your household?
Rabbeinu Yonah offers two explanations of the idea of opening your home to the multitudes. The first explanation is that you should open your house to many needy people. According to the second explanation, the “multitudes” means “where multitudes are likely to amass.” One should therefore make his house like that of our forefather Avraham Avinu, which was located in the middle of a main intersection where travelers going in all four directions were sure to pass and could come inside for a cold drink or a place to rest. Rabbeinu Yonah adds that poor people should frequent his house and not feel shamed while they are there. This is achieved by the owner of the house greeting them with a warm smile and giving them access to whatever he has in his home, just like they are members of his own household.
In Chasdei Avot, Rav Avraham ben Mordechai Azulai (the great-great-grandfather of the Chida), explains how the two parts are connected. According to Rav Azulai, having people in your house is not the mitzvah. Rather, having poor people in your house is the mitzvah. However, if a person invites only poor people into his household, he will not achieve his desired outcome. Why? Because poor people will not want to come if they know that the only guests in his house are poor people. They will feel like they are charity cases, that they are only being invited so that the owner of the house can fulfill his mitzvah of inviting poor people.
If he invites everyone, however — if he has his door open to the multitudes, Jews and non-Jews, rich and poor — then the poor people will find it comfortable to be a guest in his home and he will ultimately achieve the mitzvah of having poor guests in his house. If you open your house to everyone (to the multitudes), says Rav Azulai, then you will achieve the goal of having poor people as members of your household.
Rav Chaim Palagi, who lived in Turkey in the 18th century, does not understand the word “revach” to be multitudes. Rather, he says it translates as “with generosity,” meaning that one’s own household furnishings and adornments should be plentiful and of high quality. This is because a person who spends money on himself is more likely to spend money on others.
Some people are very selective when it comes to hachnasat orchim (hospitality.) They will readily invite a prominent or wealthy person to their home, but they avoid welcoming in one who is poor or insignificant. This mishnah is teaching us that a person’s home should be opened to the public without any discrimination, and that real hospitality is inviting the poor to one’s table. In such an instance, one is truly giving.
By Avraham Hanuka
Avraham Hanuka is a simple Jew. Originally from Brooklyn, Avraham learned for 14 years at Ohr Ha’Meir in Peekskill, New York; Beth Medrash Govoha of America (also known as Lakewood East) in Jerusalem; Passaic Talmudic Institute in Passaic, New Jersey; and Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. He teaches a class on mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiroh (commandments between man and his fellow man) on Shabbat in the Kemp Mill neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland.