A Guest For How Long?
The mitzvah of hachnassat orchim is so important that it is listed as one of only six mitzvot for which “a person eats the fruit in this world, while the principal remains for that person in the world to come” (Shabbat 127a).
Just as welcoming guests is an important mitzvah, it is important for guests to be respectful of their hosts. While neither the Torah nor the Talmud directly discuss overstaying one’s welcome, the sages did extract an interesting piece of etiquette from the discussion of the Sukkot sacrifices. Chapter 29 in the Book of Numbers describes how on Sukkot, 13 bulls are brought on the first day, 12 on the second, 11, on the third…and so forth for seven days.
What was the Torah’s reason for reducing the number of sacrifices each day? The Torah teaches etiquette from the sacrifices. If a man stays at another’s home and is welcomed by a friend, on the first day his host entertains him generously and gives him poultry to eat, on the second he gives him meat, on the third fish, on the fourth vegetables, and so on as he continually reduces the fare until he gives him legumes (Numbers Rabbah 29:25).
Providing gracious hospitality to a special guest upon his arrival is normal. When guests stay for several days, however, the guests cannot expect their hosts to disrupt their schedules (or budget) every day to prepare a grand feast. Recognizing this fact is not only part of being a good guest, but demonstrates true hakarat hatov, gratitude, to one’s host, acknowledging the effort involved in being a host.
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