They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck. — Proverbs 1:9
A lesser known Jewish practice of hospitality is called “escorting guests.” This means that after you have fed and cared for friends or family in your home, your duties as the host are not over yet. As the guests leave, we are required to escort them through the door and beyond. In earlier generations, the host would often walk his guests part of the way to their home or even all the way.
This beautiful practice extends our care for our guests beyond the minimum norm and sends a message of love. I have fond memories of my grandfather, who was scrupulous with his observance of this directive. We would never leave his home without him following us to the car and waiting as we pulled out of the driveway until he couldn’t see us anymore.
This practice is learned from Abraham, who excelled at hospitality. After Abraham hosted three strangers and served them an elaborate meal, Scripture reads: “Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way” (Genesis 18:16). Aside from expressing love for our guests, escorting them is also an expression of concern. While our roads are mainly safe today, for most of history, traveling could be quite dangerous. When the host escorted his guests, he was also helping to ensure their safety.
The Hebrew word for “escort” is levaya and that very same word is used in the following verse from Proverbs: “They are a garland to grace your head . . .” Referring to words of Torah, Proverbs calls them a levaya to grace our head. The Jewish sages explain that this teaches us when a person has no choice but to travel without an escort, the words of the Bible are his or her companion. They accompany us, protect us, and guide us.
While it’s wonderful to have companions in life who walk beside us and escort us through the twists and turns of our journey, there are times when we find ourselves alone. And what about those who are almost always alone? The widow, the orphaned, the lonely, the sick? Who accompanies them through life? How do we find comfort when on our own?
This verse from Proverbs teaches us that we are never alone with the Bible by our side. Its words are our companion. Its teachings are our guide. Its messages, a source of love. When there is no one to show us the way, God’s Word will direct us. When there is no one to help us maneuver through the dangers of life, the Bible will protect us. Just as a garland surrounds a head, let God’s Word surround our soul. Then, we will walk protected, directed, and loved.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President