Eight Ritual Steps of Hakhnasat Orkhim (Welcoming Guests)

Ritual by Kohenet Batya Diamond and Rabbi Janet Madden; chant by Batya Diamond

Judaism places great emphasis on the mitzvah of Hakhnasat Orkhim, welcoming guests. As the Aramaic root of the word mitzvah reminds us, a mitzvah is a connection. Hakhnasat Orkhim elevates the importance of sacred connections with others as we welcome guests into our home, make them comfortable, and give our guests our full attention.

Understanding Hakhnasat Orkhim as a sacred act of care for others creates opportunities to open our hearts and souls as well as our doors. The mindful practice of Hakhnasat Orkhim encourages us to recognize the holiness in everyday acts that, too often, we do in a rush, seeing them as tasks rather than as invitations to spiritual practice.

Our biblical ancestors Abraham and Sarah are held up as models of holy hospitality. Midrash Bereishit Rabba 60:16 recounts that there was a sheltering cloud over Sarah’s tent, that the doors of her tent were open to welcome guests, that her dough displayed signs of having been blessed, and that a light burned in her tent from one Shabbat eve to the next.

This model teaches us that when a person offers Hakhnasat Orkhim, Shekhinah is present.

Because we live in a consumer society, inundated with media-driven images of perfection, we can come to hosting burdened with a sense of not-enoughness. Our awareness that we do not have gourmet cooking skills or an unlimited budget or a stunning space in which to host can lead us to see hosting as a chore. Instead of seeing opportunities to bring holiness into every aspect of our hosting, we might struggle with how what we can offer cannot possibly compare to what we see online, or what our friends and family do.

In Judaism, the number seven is the number of completion; the number eight is the number of new beginnings and of redemption. Thus, this ritual offers a tikkun (rectification) to consumer mentality, encouraging us to shift our relationship to the act of hosting. This ritual can be used for any, or every, gathering—Shabbat, Thanksgiving, birthdays, Jewish holiday observance. Each element of the ritual includes a goal, a kavannah (intention), and is anchored by a chant (in the video above) based on a traditional prayer for all types of sustenance.

The ritual and chant help us to slow down, to pay attention to every aspect of the hosting process, and to imbue every step of welcoming our guests with holiness. It reminds us that when we practice Hakhanat Orkhim, we offer sacred hospitality to others and we tend our own souls. 

Eight Ritual Steps of Hakhnasat Orkhim

1. In the time of Sacred Awareness, begin by lighting a candle and/or using a scent such as an essential oil for focus. Consider both keva (structure) and kavannah (intention). Name the occasion that is being hosted; name your intention for this gathering and compose your guest list.

Goal: Being in right relationship with the sacred act of welcoming and caring for guests.

Kavannah: “I come to the sacred act of invitation to honor this occasion and those I bring together to share it.”

Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

2. In the time of Sacred Planning, make time to sit with pencil and paper and perhaps a cup of tea to engage in mindful menu planning. Consider with love and compassion the dietary needs of everyone who you are inviting.

Goal: Being in right relationship with the physical and spiritual needs of guests.

Kavannah: “I bring to the act of menu-planning care for each of my guests and their needs.”

Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

3. In the time of Sacred Shopping, engage with the act of mindful purchasing. With intentionality and integrity, source what is needed and what is appropriate for this meal.

Goal: Being in right relationship with the earth and the environment.

Kavannah: “As I purchase, I am guided by the holy principle of mindful consumption.”

Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

4. In the time of Sacred Meal Preparation, prep and cook with attention, love, and joy in the alchemical process of turning ingredients into nourishment for body and soul. Ask for assistance if/when you need it. Invite your guests to bring food to share.

Goal: Being in right relationship with ingredients, tools, and methods and process of food preparation.

Kavannah: As I prepare food for my guests, I infuse these ingredients with love.”

Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

5. In creating Sacred Space, apply hiddur mitzvah (the principle of beautifying a mitzvah) to the table setting, decorations, seating arrangements, arrangement of plates, glasses, cutlery, and flowers/greenery.

Goal: Being in right relationship with the available hosting space, its opportunities and limitations.

Kavannah: “I consecrate this space to creating holy connections.”

Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

6. In the time of joining together for Sacred Relationship and Sacred Eating, consider the ritual elements that you will weave into the meal. 

Preparatory rituals and blessings may include:

Welcoming your guests, making introductions


Kiddush over the wine


Hamotzi (for bread)

Land acknowledgement

The primary ritual of releasing divine sparks as we savor the food and our company

Concluding rituals may include:

Birkat Hamazon (expressing gratitude for what we have eaten) 

Escorting guests at leaving-time

Goal: Being in right relationship with the holy act of sharing a meal.

Kavannah: “As we take this food into our bodies, we release divine sparks.”

Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

7. In the time of Sacred Sharing, distribute leftovers to attendees and neighbors or to a local organization that feeds those in need.

Goal: Being in right relationship abundance.

Kavannah: “Sharing brings us together.”

Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

8. In the time of Sacred Clearing, come to washing and cleaning up as acts of mindful closure to this time of being together—a time to reflect and process, sort and put away that which has served the gathering.

Goal: Being in right relationship with endings.

Kavannah: “I reflect on the gift of this time together, let go of unmet expectations, and find joy in service.”

Chant: Chant: She’hakol be’divrei HAVAYA

             All does become from the word of the ONE

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