Hashem’s House Is No Different
‘Everything…But To Leave’
This well-known saying – “Do everything your host asks of you except leave” – is found in our Gemara, but what does it really mean? Should we interpret it at face value, that a guest should be so audacious as to refuse to leave?
In our version of the Gemara the words “except leave” are written in parentheses, implying that they were not part of the original text of the Gemara. The Meiri writes that they were inserted by a prankster, who sought to mock the Gemara. The version cited in Ein Yaakov, however, includes the words “except leave” and the Zohar (Pinchas, p. 244) quotes this saying with these puzzling words as well.
Various explanations have been offered to make sense of this statement. One explanation is that there was originally a quotation mark in the middle of the word “tzei – leave.” In other words, “tzei” does not mean “leave,” but rather is an acronym that means “element of the forbidden.” That is to say, good manners require us to fulfill all our host’s requests unless he asks us to violate halacha (see Gan Yosef p. 104; Ben Yehoyada).
Dispatched on an Errand
The Bach (Orach Chayim 170) reads the word “tzei” literally and explains that while a guest is expected to help his host by performing various chores around the house, he need not leave the house to run an errand for his host. Since he is a stranger to the area, it is unfair to expect him to find his way around unfamiliar streets.
The Maharsham (Daas Torah, Shulchan Aruch ibid.) cites his father’s explanation based on a subsequent sugya (99b) which teaches that that when a group has joined together to share a Korban Pesach, its members cannot tell an individual in the group to take his portion of the korban and eat it elsewhere. A guest who has already agreed to take part in his host’s Korban Pesach should not leave the group after the korban has been shechted, even if asked.
The Sefas Emes explains this ruling based on the incident of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. In this famous story, a host embarrassed his guest by forcing him to leave. The offended guest then slandered the Jews to the Roman authorities which eventually led to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. As a response to this terrible event, the Sages instituted that once a guest has entered someone’s home, he may not be forced to leave.
Surprisingly, some accept this Gemara at face value – that a person should not leave at his host’s command. Elsewhere, (Arachin 16b) the Gemara tells us that a tenant should not leave until his landlord hits him or throws out his belongings. Tenants and landlords can enter into heated disputes, and a landlord may get so upset that he threatens to evict his tenant. A tenant, though, should not be so quick to take the landlord’s threats seriously.
However, one must take care so that neither side will wish to end their relationship. This means fulfilling all the obligations that were agreed upon by both parties. Unfortunately, when a person is forced to leave his apartment, the reputations of both parties, the tenant and his landlord, are impacted negatively. People do not differentiate and simply assume that both parties do not know how to interact peacefully.
Nevertheless, until the landlord resorts to violent physical acts, a tenant should choose to stay. (It is obvious that if the shoe is on the other foot and the tenant sees that he is the one who is about to resort to violence, it is clearly time to move.) The Drisha (O. C. 170:3) and Mateh Moshe (290) apply this explanation to our sugya; their opinion is cited as halacha by the Magen Avraham (O.C. 17010) and Aruch HaShulchan (ibid, 8).
Teshuvah Always Accepted
We conclude with the explanation of the Reishis Chochma (Shaar HaKedusha, ch. 16), cited by the Shelah and others. He explains that a person may feel so depressed over his many sins that he is doubtful whether Hashem will ever accept his teshuvah. After the sage Elisha ben Avuya left the path of Torah observance, a bas kol emanated from Heaven proclaiming, “Return, wayward children – except for [Elisha]” (Chagiga 15a). Elisha was told that his teshuvah would not be accepted.
However, explains the Reishis Chochma, this was only a test from Heaven. Elisha was meant to ignore the bas kol and return nonetheless. We are all guests in Hashem’s world. Even if our Host tells us to leave His service, we must not listen. Teshuvah is always effective, even for the most terrible sins.
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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