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Sunday, 13 December 2015

How do we treat guests?

Daf Yomi Sotah 46

Last winter, we were vacationing in Los Angeles.  We were walking along Pico Blvd on Friday afternoon when I noticed a senior rabbinic colleague from New York coming the other way, schlepping his rollaboard.
“Shalom Aleichem!” I hollered, “What brings you to LA?”
“I’m here as a Shabbos scholar-in-residence,” he replied.
“Do you need a ride somewhere?” I asked.
“Sure, that would be great,” he responded, and I took him to his hosts’ home.  
As I drove away, I thought, ‘How strange!  You’d think the shul that brought him out for Shabbos would have taken care of him a little better!’ 

The Torah states, “When a corpse is found upon the ground that Hashem your G-d has given you to inherit, fallen in the field, unknown who killed it.  The elders and officers shall go out and measure the distance to the cities around the corpse.  The elders of the city closest to the corpse shall take a calf . . . and decapitate the calf in the valley. . . . and they shall say: our hands did not spill this blood . . . and the blood shall be atonement for them.”
Mishnah: Would it enter our hearts that the beth din (court) are the murderers?  Rather, the meaning of the declaration is that the individual did not appear before us and we did not dismiss him without food, nor did we see him and leave him without accompaniment. 
Beraisa: Rabbi Meir would say: We compel a person to accompany his guest, for there is no limit to the reward for accompaniment.
Rav Yehuda quoted Rav: Anyone who accompanies his friend four amos in the city, he will not come to harm.
Rabbi Yochanan quoted Rabbi Meir: Anyone who does not accompany or is not accompanied, it is as if he spilled blood, for had the people of Jericho accompanied Elisha, the bears would not have attacked the children.

When someone special arrives in town, we are all excited.  We go out to greet them and roll out the red carpet.   By the time the show is over, are we still as eager?   The Gemara here teaches that not only must one be there to greet a person when they arrive, one must also accompany them when they leave.

For example, our chazan for the Yamim Noraim (High Holy days) is Moshe David Shwekey.  When he first arrives prior to Rosh Hashanah, congregants compete for the honour to pick him up from the airport.  They haven’t seen him all year; everyone can’t wait to hear his heavenly voice once again.  But then he goes home after Rosh Hashanah, and comes back for Yom Kippur.  By the time, Motzei Yom Kippur rolls around, the novelty and excitement have worn off and it’s not as easy to find someone.  Baruch Hashem, some kind soul always steps up to the plate, but it is certainly a greater effort now, with the initial enthusiasm having worn off.   The Gemara’s message is that it is of the utmost importance not only to greet people, but to accompany them as they depart, as well.   In other words, when you walk them to the door, it’s not just to check they haven’t pinched the silverware!

Sadly, sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we are not even there to greet people when we should.   Fancy that, my colleague comes to town as scholar-in-residence and finds himself schlepping his suitcase along the street.  I hope that it was simply some miscommunication; is that how we greet a visiting rabbi?   Often when we have a scholar-in-residence come to Edmonton, they will shower us with praise for treating them so well.  And I think to myself, ‘Seriously?  We just did the normal decent thing.  How are they treated elsewhere that they should be so effusive?’  It is only when I see situations like I saw with my friend that I understand that it’s not the same everywhere.

Of course, it’s not just rabbis.  When your friends and relatives come to town, are you there for them or do you expect them to fend for themselves and figure it out?  Are you just as enthusiastic to take them back to the airport as you are to pick them up?  All of these little things are part and parcel of the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim (inviting guests).  And certainly, if they’ve made the effort to travel all the way for your simcha, you have a duty to make sure they are taken care of, from airport pick-ups and drop-offs to accommodations for Shabbos.   One of the little “surprises” my wife likes is a welcome sign at the airport – imagine you surprised your guests with a huge sign with their name on it as they walked out the double-doors!

When you do a mitzvah, give it your all.  If it’s the responsibility of the beth din to ensure a visitor is accompanied properly, how much more so for people that we have invited.  May you always take care of your guest from before they arrive until after they depart!  

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