Mishpatim: Pesachim 86 - 92
A Good Guest
Rav Huna, the son of Rav Natan, said: “Everything that the host requests that you do — do — unless he says ‘Go out’.”
The gemara relates a time when the Sage Rav Huna went to the home of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak and his family. While there, they asked him to do a variety of acts, and he complied. For example, they asked for his name and they asked him to sit down to eat. He answered their first question by saying that his name was “Rav Huna.” When they asked him why he included the title “Rav” as part of his name, he explained that others had called him “Rav Huna” since his early childhood. (Apparently he was a Torah scholar from youth.)
When they asked him to sit for the meal, he sat on the bed and reclines, as per the way of important people in those days. However, the hosts did not have this custom to recline on a bed for eating, but would rather sit on simple benches (Rashi). Since reclining on the bed was strange to them, they asked him why he reclined on the bed to eat. He explained that our Sages have taught, “All that the host requests you (the guest) to do — do — unless he says ‘Go out’.” (Since they told him to sit to eat, he obeyed, doing so in the normal way for him, which was to recline on a bed.)
The general rule that Rav Huna cited, of when to listen to the host and when not to. Is a teaching found in a collection of Torah teachings regarding proper interpersonal conduct and etiquette. However, while the first part of the statement — to obey the instructions of the host — seems reasonable, the end of the sentence seems quite difficult to understand. Do what the host tells you “except if he tells you to go out.” How can that be so? It is the domain of the host and he should be able to decide who may stay there and who may not!
A number of great Torah commentaries address this question. Some lead to halachic implications and others interpret it in as a message of spiritual guidance of great importance. (And at least one commentary — Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri — says that the correct text should not state the last two words we have in our text — chutz m’tzei — which eliminates our question and hence the need to provide an answer).
One reason why we would be taught to do all that the host says except to obey to “leave” is the concept in Shas “to not change one’s lodging.” This concept is seen as having a basis in the Torah, from verses describing Avraham Avinu’s loyalty to his hosts while traveling. Elsewhere, the gemara says that “A guest who changes one inn for another causes a blemish to the innkeeper, and he himself is also blemished.” (Erchin 16b) Rashi explains that when people see a customer leave one temporary lodging to go to another, they will think badly about the host and the guest: “Oh, these people just cannot get along. There must be something wrong with one or the other — or both of them!”
Based on this concept, the Aruch Hashulchan explains the statement in our gemara that if the host says to leave, one does not need to obey. Why not? By doing so, he might be damaging both the reputation of the host and his own good name. Instead, he should try explaining these consequences to the host — unless he feels that the host is certainly not receptive to this conversation or will cause him bodily harm. Ideally, they should both try to understand why the host told him to leave, and hopefully they will be able to work it out. But even if they still cannot resolve the issue, the guest has the right to insist on staying if he would like. He may say to the host, “You have the right to not care about the tarnish to your own reputation that will occur if I leave, but I am not willing to suffer a blemish to my good name.” Of course, the guest can always choose the option of leaving, if he so wishes. It is important to note that in any real-life situation a person should contact his Rav to ask for the correct behavior according to halacha. (Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim 270)
Another answer is that “go out” refers to going out of the dwelling to the market or to do errands for the host. The guest should obey the host when he is told to do something inside the home, but need not cause himself to appear undignified in public by doing the bidding of his host. In Hebrew, the host is called “master of the house,” but he is not the master of the public domain. (See the Magen Avraham and the Vilna Gaon to Shuchan Aruch Orach Chaim 270.)
Some explain the writings of the Maharsha in a similar manner — that the guest does not need to show special honor and obedience in matters to be done outside of the house. However, it is also possible to understand the Maharsha in a different manner, with a twist: Once the host has told him to leave, he is no longer considered “his host,” and is no longer deserving of any special obedience from the guest whom he told to leave. For example, if the host asked the guest to leave in a hurry and close the door behind him, the guest may take his time packing and may leave without shutting the door.
A novel agggadic interpretation is offered for this statement, leading to a metaphorical message. The “host” alludes to Hashem, while the guest is potentially any one of us. The gemara in Masechet Chagiga teaches that Elisha ben Avuya (aka “Acher”), the Rabbi of Rabbi Meir, went “off the derech” (the causes are mentioned in the commentaries there). Rabbi Meir implored him to do teshuva, but without success. One day, Acher heard a Heavenly voice call out, “Do teshuva, wayward children, except for Acher.” When he heard that he was not included in the call to repent, he despaired and completely gave up hope. But he was mistaken. It is always possible to do teshuva, and Hashem, in His great mercy, will accept the return of any wayward child.
This is the message in our sugya: “All that the Host (Hashem) says to anyone to do — do — except for leaving.” No matter what a person experiences, no matter what negative signs one sees, no matter how lost and hopeless a person feels due to his many transgressions — he is always warmly welcomed by Hashem if he does teshuva.
My revered teacher, HaRav Moshe Shapiro, zatzal, taught me that the Heavenly voice was not saying that anyone’s teshuvah would be accepted, except for Acher’s, which would not be accepted. Rather, it was a call to everyone but Acher to do teshuva. And, Acher knew that he did not possess the “strength of soul” to do teshuva without knowing that Hashem was also calling him to do teshuva. But he certainly had the free-will to do teshuva, despite the Heavenly proclamation, and his teshuva would have certainly been accepted — like anyone else’s.
- Pesachim 86b