As a rabbi, I am privy to many situations. I’m often informed of uncomfortable circumstances between guests and their hosts. For instance, a congregant – who had just hosted a couple for the Friday night seudah – asked me, “How do I deal with guests who never leave? A couple came for the Friday evening seudah and even after they had been served desert, tea and then more tea, they continued chatting away until after midnight! The couple did not want to leave even after the Shabbos clock had gone off!”
Sometimes it goes the other way, and it’s the guests who are surprised by their hosts. One ‘guest’ informed me how he and his wife were invited to a family for the Shabbos meal and after Kiddush, hamotzi and a small fruit cup, the host announced, “We are so tired, we usually just bentch and go to sleep now… so if you don’t mind please pass the bentcher.” The host even asked the guest, “Who can eat now?” The guest (who in truth was yours truly) was about to reply, “Want to watch me?”
Therefore, in the hope of restoring a semblance of serenity to Jewish homes I present an extremely unscientific and totally personal list of things to do and not to do in order to be deemed a ‘good guest.’
- It is certainly fitting and usually appreciated to come prepared to the meal with a small and short d’var Torah; however never speak for more than 120 seconds! Unless you know otherwise, most hosts and their families have no patience for you to dominate the Shabbos table with a long sermon or an extended pilpul on the Parsha.
- Never, ever interfere with how the host/hostess is interacting with his/her children (unless chas v’shalom there is a question of pikuach nefesh). Your job as a guest is to sit and enjoy the food; it is highly improper and outright wrong to say to your host when his son is asking him for permission to leave the table, “Oh, Yankel, don’t be so strict; let the child go upstairs!” Such critique must never be said to your host.
- Similarly, never put in your ‘two cents’ and take sides with regard to any discussion between the host and the hostess (the husband and the wife). I have been informed on more than one occasion of how a guest said at the table for all to hear, “Yankel, your wife is right this time and you should do what she says!” Even if you are correct, you have no right to interfere in the affairs of a husband and wife when you are a guest at their table. The shalom bayis ramifications can be very serious.
- “If you see something, DON’T say something.” You may notice that perhaps a glass is not as clean as it should be. Or perhaps the food needs a little more salt. Never announce at the table, “My glass is dirty, can I have a new one?” You have no idea how this seemingly
innocuous statement can have shalom bayis reverberations later on. The less you say about things which seem out of place, the better.
- Eat your food and say ‘thank you.’ A woman once told me how she stayed up late preparing an elaborate desert which she took much pride in. The next day at the meal, one guest said, “Oh, I am on a diet, do you mind if I just get an apple?” Although the guest meant no harm, it caused a chain reaction and all the other women opted out of the delicious desert and voted to eat apples. Needless to say, our hostess was extremely hurt by the chain of events. You don’t have to eat what you don’t want to; however, better not to ask for a substitute.
Remember, if you are unsure if your question, comment or critique is appropriate or not, you can’t go wrong if you practice: “When in doubt, leave it out!” And if you do indeed, “leave it out,” you will most probably be invited “in” again.