Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 12 November 2022 / 18 Cheshvan 5783

Be My Guest

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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The patriarch Abraham is often praised for his superlative dedication to the ideal of Hachnasat Orchim (literally, “bringing in guests”). In this essay we discuss several different terms for “guests” in Hebrew, including the Biblical Hebrew word oreach and the later words ushpiz and achsanai.

The word oreach (“guest/wayfarer”) appears four times in the Bible (Judges 19:17, II Shmuel 12:4, Yirmiyahu 9:1, 14:8). According to Hebrew lexicographers Menachem Ibn Saruk (920–970), Yonah Ibn Janach (990–1050), and the Radak ( 1160–1235), oreach derives from the triliteral root ALEPH-REISH-CHET. The most common derivative of that root in the Bible is the word orach (“road/way/path”), which appears approximately 60 times. Another related term is orcha (“caravan”), which appears twice (Gen. 37:25, Yishayahu 21:13). Ibn Janach and Radak explain that an oreach is called so because he travels on an orach and is hosted somewhere while en route. Ibn Janach explicitly translates the Hebrew oreach into the Rabbinic term achsanai.

Another word derived from the triliteral root in question is aruchah (“meal”), which appears several times in the Bible (Yirmiyahu 40:3, 52:34, Prov. 15:17, II Kings 25:30). Ibn Saruk in his Machberet Menachem categorizes the arucha derivative of ALEPH-REISH-CHET as a separate meaning from the orach/oreach words. On the other hand, Radak clearly writes that this word is also related to the idea of orach and oreach, but does not quite spell out the connection. Perhaps the term arucha originally referred to food provisions that a sojourner would take with him on his travels.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740–1814) traces the words oreach, orach, orcha, and aruchah to the biliteral root REISH-CHET (whose core meaning he sees as “air/space”). Other common words derived from this root according to Rabbi Pappenheim’s classification system include revach (“open space/area”), ruach (“wind,” a movement of air), reyach (“smell” because olfactory sensations travel in the air), yareyach (“moon,” whose movements somehow control the tides and winds), and memareach (“smoothing/spreading,” an act which squeezes out the air). In line with this, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that orach relates to this two-letter root because it denotes a wide road/path that has much revach. Similar to Radak and the others cited above, he explains that an oreach is called so because he travels on an orach, adding that an arucha is a special meal served or hosted in honor of an oreach.

Let’s turn to the word ushpiz. In Talmudic Aramaic, ushpiz typically refers to a “host,” while in Zoharic Aramaic, ushpiz usually refers to a “guest.” Most notably, the Zohar (Emor 103b) refers to seven Ushpizin (“guests”), whose presence grace our sukkah on the holiday of Sukkot. Rabbi Eliyahu HaBachur (1469–1549) in Sefer Tishbi writes that the word ushpiz (which he vocalizes as ashpaz) derives from the Latin hospes (which is the etymon of such English words as hospitality, hospice, hospital, hospitaller). According to modern linguists this Latin word apparently derives from the proto-Italic hospitpotis (“the master of the guest”). It is also said to be related to the Latin word hostis ("stranger/enemy"), which is the antecedent of the English hostile and hostage. Others, including Rabbi Shmuel Krauss, argue that ushpaz is not derived from Latin, but from Old Persian, where the word aspanj means "inn." Either way, HaBachur notes that the word ushpiz refers to both a “hotel” and also to a “guest” who uses such temporary lodgings. (In Modern Hebrew, ish)uz means “hospitalization.”)

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