By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
The pasuk says (Bereishis 18:3), “And he [Avraham Avinu] said: My master, if I found favor in your eyes please pass not away from your servant.” Rashi on Shevuos says that the simple explanation of “my master” is that Avraham was addressing the middle of the three guests. It seemed to Avraham Avinu that he was their leader, and if he would stay and consent to being his guest, then the two other guests would stay as well.
However, Chanina ben Achi, Rebbi Yehoshua, and Rebbi Elazar ben Azariah understand the pasuk differently: Avraham Avinu was talking to Hashem when he saw the three strangers. He asked Hashem not to depart from him while he attended to his guests. The Gemara explains that the statement that “entertaining guests is greater than greeting the Divine Countenance” follows this view.
Avraham Avinu had two choices–continue speaking to Hashem, or tend to total strangers. He chose the latter, because that is what Hashem wanted him to do. The Chochmas HaMitzpun points out that this illustrates the halachah in Yoreh Deah that if someone is growing spiritually by learning Torah and there is a chesed that cannot be performed by others, he should interrupt his spiritual growth to do the chesed.
This statement that “entertaining guests is greater than greeting the Divine Countenance” is accepted as practical halachah. This is evident from the fact that the Rambam rules that the word “my master” should be written in the sefer Torah with the intent of writing a Divine name.
One time when the Chofetz Chaim invited some travelers to his home for Friday night, he came home with his guests and promptly recited Kiddush. He skipped the recital of Shalom Aleichem, the song to welcome the angels that accompany an individual to his home on Shabbos night. Later in the meal, when everyone had already partaken of the Shabbos food, Shalom Aleichem was sung. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chassman, who witnessed this event, asked his rebbi what the rationale for doing this was.
The Chofetz Chaim explained: The guests had traveled all day, and must not have had the opportunity to eat, especially since they were in a hurry to arrive before Shabbos. If serving guests comes before greeting the Divine Presence, then it certainly comes before greeting angels! Anyway, angels are not hungry, and they can wait until after the first course. People who are hungry should not be made to wait.
The Dvar Avraham offers a different rationale for the Chofetz Chaim’s conduct, based on a Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (6a). Rava says that if one vows to give money to poor people and fails to fulfill his pledge immediately, he transgresses the biblical injunction against delaying one’s vows. The Rishonim discuss which situations Rava’s dictum is applicable to. The Chofetz Chaim reasoned that if one invited poor people to his house for the Friday-night meal, in essence he made a vow to provide them with charity in the form of food. If one delays his meal, he may be running afoul of the transgression of delaying the fulfillment of one’s charity vows. Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim made Kiddush and started his meal immediately upon returning home if he had poor guests.
The Dvar Avraham offered a defense to those who sing Shalom Aleichem even when they have poor guests. He reasons that the invitation to the Friday-night meal is to be understood as an invitation to eat when the family normally eats. Since the family always sings Shalom Aleichem, the invitation/vow was to provide food after Shalom Aleichem is sung. Still, the Dvar Avraham’s defense doesn’t apply to irregular delays. If someone happened to meet someone in shul and decided after davening to catch up on old times, this would be an unexpected delay and the Dvar Avraham’s defense would not apply.
In the Pninei Halachah the authors note that the Gemara says that caring for one’s children is considered tzedakah. Therefore, they suggest that delaying any scheduled family meal could potentially run afoul of the prohibition of delaying one’s vows. However, the Taz in Yoreh Deah (149:1) states that the Gemara certainly didn’t mean to equate feeding one’s children with charity. For example, one cannot use ma’aser money to buy food for his family. Therefore, perhaps in this regard too, one should not equate a family meal with charity. Consequently, one would not transgress the prohibition of delaying the fulfillment of one’s vows by coming home late to a family supper. However, try telling that excuse to your kids and see how well it goes over.
In the Mishnah Berurah, the Chofetz Chaim writes that it is preferable to make Kiddush immediately after nightfall on Friday night. Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim says that one may delay Kiddush if he is not hungry, as the delay will enable him to enjoy the Shabbos meal more and thereby fulfill the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos in a choice manner. However, the Chofetz Chaim cautions that if the delay will affect shalom bayis, or he has kitchen or wait staff who will be inconvenienced by the delay, or he has guests–especially poor ones–he should definitely not delay his meal. You cannot make them wait just because you want to fulfill a mitzvah in the choicest manner. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.