Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Israel on Monday for his three-day historic visit, the first-ever by an Indian Prime Minister. The leaders are seeking to strengthen the India-Israel relationship on a range of areas including defense, technology, agriculture, water, energy, and increased cooperation in intelligence sharing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a private dinner at their residence, Beit Aghion, in Jerusalem on Tuesday night. Modi was at Beit Aghion for three hours, as the entire Netanyahu family hosted him with great warmth until almost midnight.
The meal consisted of a mix of Gujarati, South Indian and Punjabi food. It began with idli, gol gapa/pani, puri/puchka, and other small bites. Then sabzi kurma along with kashmiri chawal and dal were served from all fresh ingredients prepared under traditional Kashrut law. (Based on Times of India, NDTV and Republicworld.com, July 5, 2017)
It’s no secret the Israeli government rolled out the red carpet for Prime Minister Modi during his recent trip. Modi was served the finest possible food, especially during his private dinner at the Prime Minister’s residence. What is not known, however, and was the topic of great speculation, had the Indian Prime Minister eaten at the Netanyahu family for five consecutive dinners, what would he be served? In fact, this is a relevant question for many of us when we entertain visitors this summer. Fortunately, we not only have a menu, but even a strategy for hosting guests that is learned from parshas Pinchas.
At the end of parshas Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:36), the Torah relates that on the first day of Succos, Bnei Yisroel offered 13 cows as sacrifices. On each successive day of the festival the number of cows that were sacrificed was reduced by one. What is the significance of this progression? Rashi, citing the Medresh Tanchuma writes that the Torah is sharing the proper etiquette in feeding guests! “On the first day of a lodger’s stay he should be fed fattened poultry. The second day he should be given fish. The third day he should be offered meat from animals (see Art Scroll Sapirstein Rashi Chumash, note 5a: based on Tosfos Chullin 84a, animal meat was less expensive than fish in this locale). The fourth day he should be given legumes. On the fifth day he should be offered vegetables.”
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (in the sefer Rav Wolbe on Chumash, pp. 304-305) wonders why is this menu appropriate to serve a guest? At this rate, in just a few more days a guest won’t receive anything to eat! Rabbi Avraham Grodzinki explains that the Torah is actually teaching us the formula to make a guest feel comfortable at his host’s home, even part of the family. Therefore, initially, the guests should be treated to lavish meals in the dining room at the Shabbos table. And then the transition is made to serve the guests the same meals the family ordinarily eats in the kitchen.
(In a narrowly circulated Tweet reportedly issued by the chef at the Prime Minister’s residence, had PM Modi joined the Netanyahu’s for one week, in most likelihood he would have eventually dined on falafel balls, Israeli salad, and pitas with chocolate spread.)
One additional point: when your guests conclude their meal or their stay at your home, should you just take your guests to the door and say your goodbyes, or escort them on part of their way?
The Rambam (Hilchos Aveil 14:3) tells us the extent to which we should escort our guests:
“How far must one accompany a guest? A Torah teacher should accompany his disciple until just outside the city. One friend should accompany another to the Shabbos limits (two thousand amos or one kilometer outside the city). One should accompany one’s Torah teacher for one parsah (approximately 4.5 kilometers). And if the guest was one’s primary teacher of Torah, he should escort him for three parsos (approximately 13 kilometers).”
The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 3:2 ) relates that guests should be shown the way to their destination: “Especially if the guest is not familiar with the way, and the roads branch out in several directions, it is a great mitzvah to accompany him or at least clearly explain where to go so that he will not get lost.”
The S’ma, (Choshen Mishpat, 427:11) writes that our practice today is to at least escort one’s guest four amos (approximately two meters). The Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Gemilus Chasadim, Chapter 5) explains that escorting a guest is a way of according the proper honor to one who is created in the Divine Image.