Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hosting And Guesting

The gemara [Brachos 46] teaches that a guest blesses the host in his bentching. The bracha begins by saying that the host should not be embarrassed in this world and in the next world. Why does the guest give his host specifically this bracha?

Something interesting that I noticed. When I go away from home I am inundated with invitations to eat at people's homes and to stay at their homes for Shabbos. מי כעמך ישראל. When people come to my part of the world, I also invite them - often the very same people. What is fascinating is that in almost every instance they don't take me up on the offer [I am referring to married people. Single people are much easier to successfully invite]. Most people don't even come to say hello but even the rare people who do, will say that they are in a rush and can only stay for a minute. I am afraid to invite people to sit down because that usually triggers a "I have to run". 

Why is this? Why is it that people are eager to host but are so resistant to being a guest? People will spend five hundred dollars for one night in a hotel rather than stay in a friend's home who is happy to have them. Five hundred dollars is money. I know people who won't stay over or even have a meal at family member's home. They always "aren't hungry" [what Jew isn't hungry?], or "are in a rush" [every time for 30 years], "already have plans" [anywhere but here] or other meaningful excuses. What is the explanation? The very same people who refuse the invitation to be a guest will very often be offended when their invitation to be a host is refused. They won't come to you but expect you to come to them. 

This requires an explanation. 

Here is a partial one - It is an empowering feeling to be a host. It is MY house, you are on MY turf, I am the generous giver. I also feel exceedingly comfortable. It is my home court. So I am empowered and comfortable as host.

A guest is just the opposite. He is a taker, a schnorrer, needy. He is uncomfortable. What are the hosts expectations and rules? Should I help remove the dishes from the table? I want more of that potato kugel - should I take or did I already have too much? Or maybe I insulted the Mrs.. by not eating enough? I can't talk for anyone else because I have never been anyone else [at least in this gilgul] but that is the feeling I have. Was I thankful enough? Did I praise the food? I want to be friendly to the Mrs. but not overly friendly. Some ladies are more talkative while others serve and expect the men to talk among themselves. What do I do? Don't want to offend. What about the kids? Am I giving them enough attention? There are many questions a good guest asks himself. Sometimes the guest wants to leave but it is not polite - so he is stuck until the host mercifully ends the meal and he is free. 

Then after all is said and done, he feels indebted, as Chazal teach: A good guest should say that all of the toil of the hosts was for ME. The food costs money. For money one has to work hard. The Mrs. spent a long time in the kitchen preparing the food - not to mention the time spent shopping and schlepping. What a huge debt of gratitude one should feel! He received all of this FOR FREE. 

What an EMBARRASSMENT!!! Yes, friends, there is a very real element of embarrassment here, on many levels. The Yerushalmi famously says that when one who is embarrassed is to ashamed to look at the face of the source of his embarrassment [see Orlah 1/3].

So now the riddle is solved. People are quick to invite because people want to feel empowered. They are also kind hearted. Homo Sapiens are complex. Many positive feelings converge when acting as host. Empowerment, a boost in self esteem, an improved self image ["a paragon of hachnosos orchim"], comfort [my home], enjoyable social interaction, good food [my wife - my taste in food] etc. etc.

People don't like accepting invitations because it triggers less positive feelings - neediness, discomfort, nervousness [where is that bathroom? - And even when you find it, who likes going in someone elses facilities?!], a feeling of indebtedness etc. etc. and ultimately - embarrassment.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! That is why [explains the Rav] the guest blesses the host - יהי רצון שלא יבוש בעל הבית בעולם הזה ולא יכלם בעולם הבא - It should be Hashem's will that you never be embarrassed, not in this world, nor in the next. I [the guest] know what it feels to be embarrassed and I don't wish it upon you, my dear host. [What an עין טובה!!]

Don't misunderstand - people are not aware of their deeper motivations for inviting or not accepting invitations. People are probably thinking that they invite because they are great people [they truly are] and don't accept invitations because they don't want to be trouble, so they will pay the hotel or restaurant instead. But it seems that there are deeper psychological reasons of which people are not conscious. 

So if you come to my house and stay for a week and eat my food and sleep in the bed that I own and then I come to your part of town and you invite me and I refuse the invitation, I am sending a message - you need me, but I don't need you. When you came to me you needed my services but when I came to you I managed JUST FINE. From age 1 and a quarter we are busy trying to prove to the world that we can do it "by myself". We don't stop trying to prove this until our dying day. 

What emerges is a counter intuitive paradox - it is often by TAKING that one does the greatest giving. By taking he can make the giver feel empowered and positive about himself. And it is often the giving that is more about taking than giving - without even being aware.

That is my psychoanalysis which may or may not be correct. 

What is exceedingly clear is that to be a guest contains an element of embarrassment and therefore it is so fitting to bless the host that he should never suffer the same fate.       

To conclude: מי כעמך ישראל. Jews are so holy. Everywhere you go people invest so much time, money and energy on the mitzva  of hachnosos orchim. There is no other nation in the world like us. I can go to alone to any Jewish community in the world and be assured that I will never lack an invitation for a Shabbos meal [although that might not be true after people read this post...:-)]. Goyim don't have such an ethic. We should be proud of ourselves and our chesed.

But also never forget the discomfort of having to take. Chesed, tzdaka or any other taking.