Monday, December 29, 2008

On being a good guest... and a good host

Note: These are just my observations. Some of them are things I definitely need to work on; I don't consider myself a perfect guest or host.

FOR THE GUEST:
1. If your host gives you specific instructions about when and how to arrive, FOLLOW THEM. The host has probably given you those instructions for a reason, and they know best about how to arrive at their home in a timely and convenient fashion.
2. Ask before taking something from the kitchen.
3. Reasonable requests (a sweater, a drink, an extra blanket, etc) are perfectly fine. But don't bug the host constantly.
4. Let your host know about allergies or specific food concerns (like vegetarianism) in advance. Showing up at a meal and then picking at your food because you're vegan and they're serving hamburgers makes the host feel bad and makes the guest feel hungry. Without being overly picky, let the host know if you have food concerns.
5. Be on time. This is really a corollary of Rule #1, but it merits its own number. If the host asks you to come an hour before Shabbos, don't think it's polite and/or convenient for the host if you waltz in five minutes before Shabbos.
6. Follow the rules in the home. If they don't eat in the bedrooms, don't sneak candy into the bedrooms and hope you won't leave crumbs. If they don't sit on the arms of the couch, don't sit on the arms of the couch (or at least ask before doing so).
7. Ask where you should sit at the table (and where guests usually sit in shul so you don't end up sitting in someone's makom kavua).
8. Be polite to the other members of the host's family and don't make them feel unwelcome in their own home, and definitely don't ignore them at the table or dismiss what they say. They live there and are doing a favor for you. Don't make them regret it.
9. Be aware of when other people in the house are sleeping and don't be overly loud.
10. Even if your host is doing something that bothers you, be nice to them. It's difficult to be "on" for an entire weekend, and the host also spent time preparing for your stay. Remember that when you leave, they still need to wash the dishes and the linen that everyone slept on. Be grateful.
11. Be helpful, but if your host repeatedly tells you to please sit and not serve, listen to them. Maybe once someone broke their china and since then they never allow anyone to carry anything.
12. Be gentle with their possessions and think about how you would want someone to handle your things if they were in your home.

FOR THE HOST:
1. Smile at your guests and genuinely make them feel welcome.
2. If they keep asking for stuff and it bugs you, keep your cool. Fulfill requests with a smile anyway.
3. Tell guests in advance if your home runs in a specific way. For example, if you always serve the wife first, tell guests so that they'll know and you won't get annoyed when they don't do something exactly as you would have it.
4. Cook food that you know your guests can eat and enjoy. If you are having someone who is allergic to mushrooms, don't cook three varieties of mushroom souffle and hope your guest will be content with the challah.
5. Don't dictate to your guests what they should do at every given moment. If they want to play a game, even if you'd rather read a book, give in.
6. Don't ignore your guests in favor of, say, a book.
7. Let guests know in advance if you are having other people for one of the meals or if you are eating out so that they aren't caught totally off guard when someone else shows up.
8. Stick with your guests in shul so that they don't feel completely uncomfortable and/or lost. Show them where the bathroom is and where the siddurim and chumashim are kept if they don't already know.
9. Don't tell embarrassing stories about your guests at the table.
10. Don't fight openly with your family.
11. Don't insult your family in front of guests. It will make your family upset and the guests uncomfortable.

FOR BOTH:
1. Try not to inconvenience the other party.
2. If one party feels inconvenienced, don't show it.
3. Be aware that it's sometimes difficult for the other party to be at someone else's house or to be hosting people and don't act like you're the only one who may be having a hard time.
4. Smile, even if you're not in a good mood.
5. Be dan l'kaf zechus if a guest says something that seems off.

Any thoughts/suggestions?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On creativity

Her mind hums. This morning she may penetrate the obfuscation, the clogged pipes, to reach the gold. She can feel it inside her, an all but indescribable second self, or rather a parallel, purer self. If she were religious, she would call it the soul. It is more than the sum of her intellect and her emotions, more than the sum of her experiences, though it runs like veins of brilliant metal through all three. It is an inner faculty that recognizes the animating mysteries of the world because it is made of the same substance, and when she is very fortunate she is able to write directly through that faculty. Writing in that state is the most profound satisfaction she knows, but her access to it comes and goes without warning. She may pick up her pen and follow it with her hand as it moves across the paper; she may pick up her pen and find that she's merely herself, a woman in a housecoat holding a pen, afraid and uncertain, only mildly competent, with no idea about where to begin or what to write.
~The Hours by Michael Cunningham, 34-35

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Looking for a source

Friday night, I got into a pointless conversation with someone -- one of those "discussions" when you don't agree with each other and you're not going to sway the other person's opinion, so it could go on for hours until someone decides to end it. Rather fruitless, on the whole, but it was civil.

In the course of this conversation, the other person asked me if I believe that gedolim receive a special siyata dishmaya when they pasken or make decisions. I responded that unless the person had a source for this concept, I was skeptical - to me, believing that gedolim get special siyata dishmaya is a "feel-good" idea: if you think it's true, then gedolim will ALWAYS be right, because Hashem wouldn't let them make mistakes, and so you can legitimately follow everything they say and never question. In other words, this special power, as it were, gives gedolim a status of infallibility, and exempts their followers from having to take stock of what they say.

But if you don't think it's true, then you accept that gedolim are using their knowledge and bechira when they make decisions and/or pasken, and then it's much more up to you whether or not you buy into it or follow what they say.

As an aside, I find the concept of da'as Torah to be one of the stickiest things to discuss, which is why I normally steer clear of having those sorts of conversations -- this one sort of just happened. When we had both gotten thoroughly tired of recycling the same ideas in the conversation, we resolved to each do our research and try to find out if there is a source for the siyata dishmaya idea.

Note: When the other person said "gedolim," they meant people like Rav Elyashiv or Rav Scheinberg (who are without question gedolei Torah, but I wonder if all of Orthodox Judaism considers them gedolei hador [and I think there is definitely a difference]).

So... any thoughts? Is there a source for this concept, that gedolim -- because of their stature -- get special siyata dishmaya when they pasken/make decisions?

(Of course, I didn't bother to tell this person that to my mind, it's not definite whether or not there are really even gedolei hador in the world nowadays . . . that might have been a little too traumatic for this person to hear.)