How to Serve Guests

Among those who came to spend Shabbos Parashas Shemini at the court of the Rebbe, Reb Meir’l of Premishlan, were two Chassidim affiliated with another Chassidus. Their Rebbe had recently been niftar but, before his petirah, he had declined to name a successor. Instead, he instructed that two of his leading Chassidim were to visit the various tzaddikim of his generation, and choose the one whom all the Chassidim of the group would recognize as their Rebbe.  This Shabbos, the two Chassidim had decided to visit the Rebbe in Premishlan.

Due to reasons beyond their control, they were delayed on the way and arrived in Premishlan shortly before Shabbos was about to begin. There was no time to find lodgings, or to purchase meals for Shabbos; they made their way directly to the Rebbe’s shul. After davening, each of them was invited to the home of a wealthy baal habayis for the seudah. Another kindhearted Yid invited them both to sleep in his house.

During the meal, one of the two found himself in a most uncomfortable predicament. He was quite hungry, as he had not eaten properly during his lengthy trip to Premishlan. His host, however, was a very small eater. Watching his host eat so little, the guest was embarrassed to eat much. His friend, the second Chassid, found himself in a somewhat similar situation. While his host ate large amounts of food, he did not cut up any challah and place it on the table. Rather it stayed whole — and the host would slice himself generous portions. The guest was understandably embarrassed to take food for himself or to ask his host, and so he, too, stayed hungry.

Following the seudah, the two made their way to the Rebbe’s tisch, which took place after midnight. When the tisch ended the two Chassidim, famished and exhausted, went together to their lodging place. At that point, their hunger overcame their discomfort, and they asked the owner of the house if perhaps he had some food for them.

“Actually, I invite only for sleeping, not for eating. However, since I see that you are so hungry, I will give you what I have, although it is not prepared.” He gave them something to eat, and they then went to sleep.

On Shabbos morning, they went once again to daven in the Rebbe’s shul. Once more, they went to their respective hosts. The scene of the night before repeated itself, and each of the Chassidim left the table with an empty stomach. The two dutifully attended the Shabbos day tisch at the Rebbe’s court and returned to their lodgings still hungry.

Discussing their experiences, the Chassidim concluded that neither of them had been impressed by anything they had seen thus far. The Rebbe’s ways were hidden, and they were left uninspired.

As soon as they entered the room where the Rebbe led the tisch for shalosh seudos, the Rebbe asked aloud, “Where are those two young men who are seeking a Rebbe who has ruach hakodesh?” Embarrassed, the two Chassidim declined to identify themselves. It was only when the Rebbe insisted, did they shamefacedly, they approached the Rebbe. The Rebbe greeted them and asked them where they had eaten the Shabbos seudos. When they told the Rebbe the names of their hosts, the Rebbe instructed that their hosts be summoned as well.

When the two hosts approached, the Rebbe turned to them. “There is a great and holy mitzvah in the Torah called hachnasas orchim,” he began. “The proper way one is to conduct himself with guests is something that needs to be learned. When someone invites a guest to his house, he is to cut up many slices of bread and place it on the table. This is in order that the guests not feel uncomfortable about cutting for themselves, and consequently leave the meal hungry. However, even if a host does cut up slices of bread, if he does not eat himself, then the guest will feel embarrassed to eat, and again he will leave the meal hungry. Therefore, the host is required to eat himself as well, so that his guest will not feel ashamed to eat.

“This is hinted at in this week’s parashah,” the Rebbe continued. “The chazir that is ‘mafrish parsah,’ cuts [splits] pieces of bread, but does not chew its cud — meaning that he himself does not eat — such a creature is impure to you… and from these one should not eat. The camel does chew its cud [it eats food] but does not cut [split] bread and place it on the table. It, too, is impure…”

With these words, the Rebbe took two slices of challah, placed a slice of fish on each, and handed one to each of the two guests.

***

The lesson the Rebbe taught his Chassidim is an extremely relevant one. Hosting guests is a great mitzvah, and much thought must be put into doing all possible to make guests feel comfortable. This includes the way they are welcomed, the types of discussions around the table, how food is served and their sleeping arrangements.