Hundreds of strangers coming and going at all hours.
Bochurim roaming the streets in small groups.
Moshe Rubashkin’s Hachnasas Orchim house sounds like a seven-week nuisance, an annual disruption to the otherwise-normal life on President Street. Chutzpah.
No question, Rubashkin is a disruptor.
The kind of disruptor whose operation turns a niche on its head.
It all comes down to his perspective and his commitment to his shlichus: the Rebbe’s orchim are Reb Moshe’s orchim, and it’s personal.
The Gemara states that גדולה הכנסת אורחים מהקבלת פני השכינה – welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Shechina. The Rebbe took this halacha very literally. On the night of Erev Rosh Hashana 5722 (1963), the Rebbe held a surprise farbrengen dedicated as a kabbalas panim for his orchim. “Since the Gemara states, and the Rambam writes this as a halacha, that גדולה הכנסת אורחים מהקבלת פני השכינה – welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Shechina… it would be appropriate for me to welcome each one of the guests personally. Since this is not possible due to the time constraints during the days before Rosh Hashanah, this farbrengen should be considered as if I welcomed each guest personally.” The concept is so dear and so significant to the Rebbe that the Rebbe said a maamar k’ein sicha on this posuk during that farbrengen, and thus began an annual tradition of Elul farbrengens dedicated as a kabbalas panim for the Rebbe’s orchim.
Reb Moshe has taken this posuk and the Rebbe’s emphasis to heart, hosting the Rebbe’s orchim the way you host to your most cherished guests. He brings them into his home, dubbed Avraham Avinu’s Tent. He serves delicious, high-quality food. He prepares comfortable accommodations, as you do – beds, showers, linens, toiletries – devoting great attention to the aesthetics of the guests’ rooms. He provides appropriate accommodations for families as well as bochurim. He doesn’t tell his guests that they will miss dinner if they aren’t home between the hours of 5pm to 8pm, because residents and guests in a real home are not restricted to certain hours of operation. Food is available 24/7, no reservation required.
As the Rebbe said, Rubashkin personally greets the orchim, making himself available to anyone who needs assistance day and night. And Reb Moshe’s assistance is undiscerning. Locals and visitors alike approach Rubashkin with concerns ranging from requests for fresh linens to requests for substantial interest-free loans (in cash, right now), and he gives whatever they need.
Beyond requests, Rubashkin makes note of the orchim’s needs and makes preemptive moves to provide. This morning, Reb Moshe was overseeing the delivery of hundreds of packages of personal hygiene products because he saw too many visitors going without toothpaste and the like. As if there’s not enough for the leader of a hachnasas orchim organization to do on the 4th of Tishrei – he’s personally overseeing the delivery of toothbrushes for strangers.
Rubashkin has essentially become the dorm mother, maitre d’, and coordinator of head-to-toe accommodations for the Rebbe’s orchim. His guests are made to feel at home in the deepest sense. In contrast to a typical hachnasas orchim organization, where the guests must arrange their needs to suit the schedule and prices set by the organization, Reb Moshe is clearly bending over backwards to attend to his guests’ every need on their terms, not on his. This sends the strongest subconscious message to the orchim: a host who goes out of his way to provide is truly saying “My house is your house. It’s not your job to make your stay convenient for me. Live here like you live in your home.”
This is how you would host an important guest in your home. So it’s how Reb Moshe hosts the Rebbe’s orchim in his. They are treated like royalty, because Rubashkin is not looking to simply be yotzeh the inyan. Rather, he is looking to channel the Rebbe into every minute of caring for the Rebbe’s treasured orchim. They are the chassidim who have traveled thousands of miles, many taking on extra jobs and saving all year just to be by the Rebbe for Tishrei.
Rubashkin is redefining hachnasas orchim in Crown Heights. Chessed and ahavas Yisroel, from the deepest parts of the soul.