Radical Hospitality

“Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai – Each who comes with the name Adonai is blessed”

(Psalms 118:26)

These words are more commonly translated (and idiomatically) along the lines of “Blessed are (or “Welcome”) those who come in God’s name.” To me, however, they have recently taken on a different meaning, reflected above. Last week, I experienced the gift of attending a retreat at a Quaker residence outside Philadelphia called Pendle Hill. When the aptly named director, Mary Comfort, greeted us, she informed us that we were being welcomed in the spirit of the guiding value of their center, the principle of “radical hospitality”. As she explained it, this is a way of welcoming people from wide-open heart as bearers of the Presence of the Divine. More informative than her words, however, was her entire way of being – warm, genuinely pleased to be welcoming us – she actually radiated love for what she saw within us and the work we had come to do.

It was immediately clear to me that there was implicit a parallel to the value of hospitality (hachnasat or’chim) as found in our tradition, anchored in our sources to Abraham’s enthusiastic embrace of the strangers who appear before his tent in Genesis 18. That source is paired with the demonstration of the radical opposite of hospitality in the very next chapter, when two of the same three visitors are threatened with sexual abuse by the townspeople of Sodom when they sought shelter with Lot. The significance of Abraham’s welcome is deepened by the fact that, though this is the third instance in which God’s covenant with him is affirmed, it is only after this encounter, this mitzvah, that the covenant is fulfilled with the granting of his heart’s desire – the birth of a son to his wife, Sarah. So we know this value is important. We rehearse its importance every day, traditionally, when we find it in the list of the deeds the significance of which is without measure (Elu D’varim). But do we understand the full measure of what it is to be truly, radically hospitable?

I was sufficiently moved and impressed by what I experienced to do a little digging. It turns out this value, as articulated, does not originate with the Friends. It is actually derived from the teachings of St. Benedict, who spoke of it in his context as meaning “to invite all people into your house as if they were [the] Christ”. In our usage this can readily be translated into welcoming one another as if we were each a manifestation of the Holy One of Blessing. And, of course, that is precisely the implication of the teaching that each of us is created b’tselem – as a reflection of the Divine. How amazing would it be if each of us could really live in that way all the time – greeting every soul we encounter as an image of holiness? That would indeed be radical![1]

The Jewish Wellness Center of North Jersey is devoted to that kind of radicalism. Our hope is that, through encouraging cultivation of body, heart, mind and soul both in the individual and in community, we can contribute in some small way toward helping to shape a world of deep open-heartedness, of loving welcome for all. And in founding the Center, I dedicate its aspiration to a wonderful soul who greeted the world with radical hospitality; our beloved son Mitch, who died two-and-a-half years ago, but whose spirit lives on in the family and friends he continues to inspire. May the Source of Life and Light prosper our work, open our hearts and help all of us to fulfill our capacity to become mala’chim – angels, messengers of blessing to all.

[1] I hasten to add that I am not the first to offer a Jewish take on radical hospitality. Rabbi Eric Yoffie writes movingly of the value in an article in Reform Judaism Magazine, Winter 2006, as does Ron Wolfson in The Spirituality of Welcoming, Jewish Lights Publishing, p. 45ff.


About Rabbi Rex Perlmeter

Rabbi Rex Perlmeter was ordained at HUC/JIR in 1985, and went on to serve as spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Greater Miami and the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. After serving on staff at the URJ for five years, he has gone on to found the Jewish Wellness Center of North Jersey, a practice dedicated to supporting all engaged in "seeking Oneness in body, heart, mind and soul."


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2 Responses to “Radical Hospitality”

  1. limewire download October 14, 2013 7:40 AM #

    Without the unity of love there will be no meaning to this world. This world becomes nice and sweet only by loving Allah.

    • Rabbi Rex Perlmeter
      Rabbi Rex Perlmeter October 17, 2013 2:24 PM #

      An interesting post – particularly coming a couple of days after the use of the name “Allah” by non-Muslims was forbidden in Malaysia. I hope the intent of the message is to suggest that the world will become nice and sweet when all of us feel our connection to the Divine, by whatever name may flow most naturally from our souls. Blessings and peace

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