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What is the source for the idea (I recall learning as a child) that Avraham's tent was open on all 4 directions to welcome guests?

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According to Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov here in the comments, the earliest recorded source for this idea is in the commentary of Rabbeinu Yona to Pirkei Avos 1:5.

  • I was about to post that it was that Mishna... – Scimonster Nov 6 '14 at 16:30
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It is clearly stated in Shochar Tov, the Midrash on Tehillim chapter 110.

זש"ה (ישעיה מא) מי העיר ממזרח צדק. ישנים היו אומות העכו"ם מלבא תחת כנפי השכינה ומי העירן לבא לחסות תחת כנפי השכינה אברהם שנאמר מי העיר ממזרח. ואל תאמר לזה בלבד אלא אף הצדקה היתה ישינה והעירה אברהם. וכיצד עשה אברהם עשה לו פונדק ופתח לו פתחים לכל רוח והיה מקבל העוברים והשבים שנא' (בראשית כא) ויטע אשל בבאר שבע.‏

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for this answer! – Rish Sep 10 '17 at 22:58
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The source that Abraham's tent was open on all sides most probably stems from Midrash Rabba (48:9):

אָמַר רַבִּי אַבָּהוּ אֹהֶל פְּלָן שֶׁל אָבִינוּ אַבְרָהָם מְפֻלָּשׁ הָיָה, רַבִּי יוּדָן אָמַר כְּהָדֵין דְּרוֹמִילוֹס, אָמַר אִם אֲנִי רוֹאֶה אוֹתָן שֶׁהִפְלִיגוּ אֶת דַּרְכָּם לְהִתְקָרֵב דֶּרֶךְ כָּאן, אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁהֵן בָּאִים אֶצְלִי, כֵּיוָן שֶׁרָאָה אוֹתָן שֶׁהִפְלִיגוּ, מִיָּד וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה

Trans. (Soncino, pg. 411; based on Theodor's critical ed.):

R. Abbahu said: The tent of the Patriarch Abraham opened at both sides. R. Judan said: It was like a double-gated passage. Said he: 'If I see them turn aside, I will know that they are coming to me.' When he saw them turn aside, immediately he ran to meet them.

(Jastrow too translates (here p. 322) "דרומילוס" as double-sided, from the original Greek word.)

On the verse (Gen. 21:33), “And he planted an eshel in Beer-Sheba", BT (Sot. 10a) cites two opinions on its interpretation:

רבי יהודה ורבי נחמיה חד אמר פרדס וחד אמר פונדק

Trans. (Sefaria):

The tanna’im Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Neḥemya disagree as to the meaning of the word “eshel.” One said that it means an orchard [pardes], and one said that it means an inn [pundak].

The image was probably further constructed to fit with the narrative of Avot DeRabbi Natan (ch. 7) that even Job, who had openings around his house and catered to guests likings, still did not come to the level of Abrahams hospitality:

אף על פי כן אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא לאיוב: איוב, עדיין לא הגעת לחצי שיעור של אברהם

Consequently, a seeming amalgamation of the above sources emerged which reads as follows (Sefer HaYashar, Va-yeira):

ויטע אברהם אשל גדול בבאר שבע, וישם לו שם ארבעה שערים לארבע רוחות העולם ויטע בו כרם

Loose trans.:

Then Abraham erected a great inn and placed entrances at its four sides and he planted an orchard too.

  • I had albeck in particular in mind. I didn't find it after a quick search. if it is in albeck, consider mentioning that as that can make a big difference in dating the midrash. – mevaqesh Nov 6 '17 at 4:44
  • @mevaqesh Good suggestion; I get the impression some readers don't know its date of compo. or redaction. – Oliver Nov 6 '17 at 13:17
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According to the Schechter Institute, it’s an unsourced explanation on a Midrash. The article also attempts to explain its lack of a written source.

The author there writes that the actual Midrash mentions Iyov, not Avraham, as having a four-sided tent to welcome guests coming from all directions, but it goes on to state that, in comparison, Avraham was even more welcoming than Iyov, because he would go out and personally invite in guests. The author then suggests that there may have been a parallel tradition (maybe she means it's assumed by the Midrash?) about Avraham.

  • I'd posit that it was not a parallel tradition, as the author suggests, but a comparison that led to the tradition. – Seth J Nov 6 '14 at 17:46
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    Commentless downvote. Nice. – Seth J Nov 30 '16 at 22:17
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The earliest source that I am aware of is Avos Drav Nosson.

see link: Interesting to note he mentions that Iyov also had a tent that was open to all 4 sides.

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    I don't Avraham listed there as having such a tent. Only Job. – Double AA Nov 6 '14 at 17:57

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