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Towards the end of this week’s parashah, we are commanded to bring special sacrifices on the holidays. The bullocks offered on Sukkos are seventy in all, and they gradually decrease in number each day. There are several explanations for this. One of them, which Rashi (Bemidbar 29:36) brings in the name of the Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma, is as follows:

The Torah teaches you a rule of conduct - that he who has a guest staying with him should give him on the first day fattened poultry to eat, on the morrow he should give him fish to eat, on the next day animal flesh; on the following day he should give him legumes to eat, and on the next day vegetables; diminishing gradually, just as was the case with the bullocks on Sukkos.

My Rebby, shlita, asked in the name of his Mashgiach, Harav Hatzaddik, Reb Shlomo Harkavi, ztvk”l Hy”d: This may surely be the reality; one who has a guest at his home prepares a fine meal for him the first day, but gives him less and less as time goes on. However, this is certainly a flaw in his hospitality. Yet Chazal said that “The Torah teaches you a rule of conduct,” which seems to indicate that this practice is praiseworthy! How could that possibly be?

To understand this properly, we should examine some other words of the Sages. The Gemara says (Bava Basra 9b), “He who gives a perutah (a small coin) to a poor man is blessed with six blessings; but he who placates him, is blessed with eleven.”

In another place (Kiddushin 31b), the Gemara says, “There is one who feeds his father fat poultry, and yet he is banished from the world; and there is one who makes his father work hard, grinding a mill, and that merit brings him to the world-to-come!” Rashi explains that the first son is punished because, although he feeds his father well, he shows him that he is not happy with the expense that it costs him; the other son, however, is rewarded because, although he makes his father help him earn a living, he explains to him nicely that he needs his help in order to be able to support him. (From my own, personal, experience, I can understand the Gemara differently. Baruch Hashem, I have the tremendous privilege of having my mother-in-law, may she be well, live in our home. She was once a very active woman, but today, in her old age, she can do very little. My wife and children try their best to make her happy and one of the best ways is to give her chores to do and thank her profusely for her “help.” The harder the job, the happier she is!)

From these two Gemaros, we learn an important rule in charitable deeds. It is not only the item we give to the needy which counts. Much more important, is the attitude with which we give it to him. Many people will exert themselves greatly to provide others with their needs. But they do it with a sour face, a grumble, and perhaps even unfriendly words and make the recipient feel bad about it. Their attitude is, “What’s the difference how I did it? The main thing is that I did what they wanted and they got what they were hoping for!” But they are very mistaken. Not only won’t they be rewarded for their act of “kindness,” but they will be punished for the ill feelings they gave them.

Even when one cannot provide the needy with anything, and, in such a case, he is certainly exempt from giving; he is still not exempt from the most important part of the mitzvah. Chazal taught (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 34:15), “If you do not have what to give him, placate him with words, tell him, “My soul goes out to you that I have not what to give you.” We might think, what good are empty words? The main thing is the giving, and if I cannot give, then there is nothing I can do. But our wise Sages taught us that it is just the opposite. Even when we do give, it is the words of appeasement; to make him feel good about his situation; to make him feel less embarrassed about having to take from us, which is the essence of the mitzvah and for which we will be rewarded.

If we understand all of this, we can also comprehend my Rebby’s Mashgiach’s answer to the question he asked. Hachnasas orchim, inviting guests into our home, is a very great mitzvah indeed. But its intensity is not measured by how much we give them; it is evaluated by how comfortable we made them feel. For every stranger feels sore at having to be dependent upon someone else’s hospitality. The most important part of the mitzvah is to make him feel at home.

Therefore, the first day we must provide him with all of his needs, since he is, truly, a stranger in our home. However, the next day we should give him less, and encourage him to take some things on his own. The Torah teaches us a rule of conduct; that we should give our guests less and less each day, while convincing him that he is part of the family and should not be embarrassed to take for himself whatever he needs. That is the epitome of hachnasas orchim! And that is the essence of charitable deeds.

May we always have the ability to help others, and may we do it the proper way; giving them a really good feeling about receiving what they need from us.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel