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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach| 5771

Ask the Rabbi: Hosting a Difficult Guest

Question: We have a friend who, when visiting from America, stops by for meals often when she is in our area. For the first time, last night, she slept over. It was, shall we say, a nightmare! She received several phone calls in the middle of the night, which woke us, and also, despite being warned, tripped the alarm. She now seems to want to stay for another night and perhaps return in the future. Are we permitted to refuse her request?


Answer: This is a very hard question to answer, not just because it is hard to predict the likely potential scenarios, but because there is a conflict between values, as we will explain.

Hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) is a rabbinically mandated application of the Torah command to love one’s counterpart (Rambam, Avel 14:1). It applies both to poor and rich guests and, in theory, can be accomplished even when taking money for expenses (food, telephone calls, etc.) by providing a warm, welcoming place to be (Ahavat Chesed 3:1). Thus, even if someone can afford to stay in a hotel, (and, maybe, from her perspective, should do that) if she asks to stay at one’s house or the situation is such that such an invitation is the normal nice thing to offer, the mitzva is normally a responsibility.

There is a general question about the obligation to fulfill a mitzva that has a large physical or emotional price, and this comes up in different contexts. In Living the Halachic Process (vol. II, D-15) we dealt with someone who can expect to have a moderate allergic reaction to eating matza on Pesach. The basic assumption is that one does not have to make himself sick in order to fulfill a mitzva, and while it is hard to do, one has to try to figure out what is a normal “price” one has to pay to fulfill a mitzva. In this case, when it is a matter of your needs against another person’s needs and feelings, the matter is certainly not easy to determine, but one should try to consider this in an idealistic but realistic manner. The availability of alternative arrangements is a factor in this context (see Ahavat Chesed 3:2)

There is another element to the complex nature of this question. Just as a host is urged and, to a great extent, commanded to extend himself to make the guest happy and welcome (ibid. 1) so is the guest required to not take advantage or overdo her welcome (Halichot Bein Adam Lachveiro 8:28). If she is outright damaging to her hosts, they are not required to keep her (ibid. 6, in the name of Sefer Chasidim). We would certainly say that if she were stealing from her host, presumably even if the host is willing to spend similar amounts of money to feed her), she can be asked to leave. You could make the claim that gezel sheina (deprivation of sleep) would be equivalent. On the other hand, it is hard to know where to draw the line on such a matter (otherwise, we would all be thieves at one time or another).

A final, related issue is that if your guest continues to grossly abuse her rights, she is seriously sinning. By letting her continue to do so, in some ways you are wrongly facilitating her sins. The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh 205) says that rebuke, in addition to correcting “religious” sins and those affecting third persons, is intended for people who are being abused (as opposed to harboring resentment – see Vayikra 19:17). While we are cautious about the use of rebuke, having your guest continue to upset you is unlikely to be in her best interest.

All this being said, we think you should consider seriously the likelihood that your guest was not aware of how her behavior disturbed you. She is less likely to trip the alarm again, and you can probably unplug the phone or mention calmly how its ringing disturbs you greatly. Hopefully, your friend is a nice person who will be a much improved guest in the future. So, if you can put up with her for another night and see how it goes, you would probably be doing a big mitzva, even if you arguably can get out of it. Feel free to follow up as things develop.



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