Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Breslov Hospitality

(Photo by Miriam Skokovskii)

Otzar Nachmani, sec. 19
Collected Talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

[Rabbi Nachman Burstein writes:]
One of the prominent Breslover Chassidim (I don’t remember whom—this should be clarified by conferring with other Chassidim) once gave a public talk about the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim (showing hospitality to guests), in light of Chazal’s teaching that hospitality is “greater than receiving the face of the Shekhinah (Divine Presence)” (R. Yehudah, in the name of Rav, Shabbos 127a). Thus the Rebbe once told his daughter [after extolling the loftiness of this mitzvah], “A guest—a little more challah and a little more tablecloth!”

That is to say, one should exert oneself for a guest as much as possible, with a cheerful demeanor and with happiness, to provide for his needs, so that the guest will experience a pleasant atmosphere in one’s home.  

This reflects what Chazal state about a Jewish slave, in connection with the verse, “for it is good for him with you” (Deuteronomy 15:16)—“ ‘with you’ [i.e., like you] in food and drink and nice bedding” (Kiddushin 22a). When you serve the meal, give the guest the best portion and provide more than enough for him to be sated.

Nevertheless, one must not discuss with a guest the need to break one’s desire for tasty foods (ta’avas akhilah), and how one should be content with a bare minimum (as in the sixth chapter of Pirkey Avos), and such things. Rather, one should worry about the guest’s material needs in food and drink, that they should be healthful and kosher without the slightest question. (As the Rebbe states in Sefer ha-Middos, “The tikkun of the body takes priority over the tikkun of the soul.”) This is not the time to be worried about the guest’s spiritual condition!

On the contrary, it would be proper to speak with him in a positive way about the spiritual advantages of eating, and how at such times one may experience an “illumination of desire” (he’aras ha-ratzon—the deepest desire of the soul for Hashem, which transcends reason; see Likutey Moharan II, 7); and how through eating in holiness the Jewish people bring about a unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Shekhinah [i.e., the transcendent and immanent aspects of Divinity], as the Rebbe states (Likutey Moharan I, 62). One should speak of such things and not, G-d forbid, interrupt the guest’s eating with negative words about the desire for tasty foods. 

Similarly, when it comes to the guest’s sleeping arrangements, one must prepare for him a comfortable bed with nice bedding, with clean sheets and blankets, out of concern that he should sleep well all through the night. The guest must not feel unwelcome. All the more so, one must not awaken him to recite “Tikkun Chatzos” (the midnight lament over the destruction of the Holy Temple and the spiritual decline of the Jewish people), for this would be tantamount to a theft that cannot be repaid (see Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat, “Gezeilah”). Doing so would be proper only if the guest asks his host to awaken him at midnight to recite “Tikkun Chatzos”; only then may the host agree to disrupt his sleep.

And despite this, there were great Breslover Chassidism who refrained from awakening guests, even when asked to do so; if the guest awoke of his own accord, well and good. However, if a guest came to stay with him specifically so that his host would wake him up at midnight, so that he could engage in divine service, per their prior arrangement, that was all right.

If the host wants to discuss matters such as breaking one’s desire for tasty food and drink, or being content with little, etc., he should do so at another time, when that person is not his guest. However, when the other is his guest, the host should give him the best food and lodging he can provide. Indeed, he should arouse the guest’s desires with good foods and delicacies, and ask him frequently if the food is sufficient, and tasty enough—perhaps he would like a little more to eat; thus he will make the guest’s stay in his home all the more pleasant, as if the Shekhinah were there before him.

Some of the Breslover Chassidim of old would don their best clothes, even their Shabbos garments, in honor of the guest, and light candles as if they were “receiving the face of the Shekhinah.”

It is told of the tzaddik and chassid Rabbi Michel Tulchiner, zal, a grandson of Reb Noson, zal, that for him, the mitzvah of hospitality stood at the very heights. He would prepare for his guest large loaves, so that the guest would not be embarrassed to eat a lot. He would personally arrange the guest’s bed and lie down for a moment to test it for comfort. He even had a special closet for bedding with new sheets designated for his guests, whenever they were needed. He would sharpen the knives for the guest, so the latter could slice the bread easily; at times, he would personally cut thick slices for the guest, in case the other might be embarrassed to do so, not wanting to appear to be a glutton. (Heard from Rabbi Itche Meir Korman, who had stayed with Reb Michel in Tulchin; and also Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender).

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