The Mishna in today’s daf (Shabbat 18:1, Shabbat 126b) informs us that the moving of boxes of straw or grain, which is both a highly strenuous activity and is also considered a weekday activity, is permitted on Shabbat for the purpose of making room for guests or for creating more space for more people to come and learn Torah.
Interestingly, we are taught in Shabbat 127a – which we recite on a daily basis – that while showing hospitality is counted among the mitzvot whose rewards are partially enjoyed in this world and primarily in the world to come, Torah study is seemingly a greater mitzvah.
However, as Rav Dimi points out (ibid.), the fact that our Mishna mentions the justification for moving the boxes to make room for guests prior to speaking about doing so to create more space for more people to come and learn Torah suggests that hospitality is, in fact, the greater mitzvah (which is a principle that may also be derived from the rabbinic teaching – also found on Shabbat 127a and derived from the story of Avraham who takes leave from speaking with God to show hospitality to three wayfarers – that ‘greater is hospitality than welcoming the Divine Presence’).
Given this, how can we reconcile the notion that ‘Talmud Torah Kneged Kulam’ (which seems to imply that Torah study is a greater mitzvah) with the claim that ‘Hachnassat Orchim’ (hospitality) is a greater mitzvah?
Though many answers might be suggested to this question, I would like to share the insight of Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, author of the Shnei Luchot HaBrit (Shelah), who writes that by creating the world for humanity, God is perpetually practicing hospitality towards humanity, and therefore by practicing hospitality we emulate the way of God.
Understood this way, it seems that if someone doesn’t understand the value of hospitality, then they cannot understand the Torah whose purpose is to teach us about the ways of God, and if someone isn’t prepared to make room for guests in their home, then their home isn’t a place worthy for Torah lectures to be delivered.
The Kotzker Rebbe once asked his students where can God be found, to which he replied, “God is found where we let Him in”. However, based on our Mishna I believe we can offer an alternative answer that “God is found where we welcome others in”.