Loving Kindness – SEFER AHAVAS CHESED – 24th Av, 5769
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23 Av, 5769 / August 13, 2009
Day 141 – Life-Saving
SEFER AHAVAS CHESED — Part III Chapter II footnotes
In the simple act of escorting a guest out the door and on his way, a person performs an act of kindness whose reward, according to the Rambam, surpasses that of every other form of chesed. The Rambam’s conclusion is supported by many statements throughout the Talmud, but the truth of the concept emerges easily when one studies the other side of the coin. A person who is not escorted — someone who is left to drift out the door and find his own way — feels like a non-entity. His vital spirit is crushed. The send-off a person receives is what forms his lasting impression of his value in his host’s eyes, and by extension, in his own eyes.
So essential is the practice of escorting a visitor that the Rambam relates that the rabbinical courts had the custom of appointing agents to accompany people in their travels. If the court was lax in this duty and harm to a traveler resulted, those who failed to fulfill the duty were considered to have spilled his blood. On the other hand, the act of escorting a guest even four amos — about eight feet — carries tremendous reward.
There are specific guidelines as to what qualifies as fulfillment of the mitzvah of escorting a guest. In times when cities were smaller and roads were more dangerous, the guidelines were upheld with greater stringency. At the very least, however, the host should walk the guest to the door and eight feet beyond
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, the renowned student of the Chofetz Chaim, visited America in the early 1930’s to raise money for his yeshivah. During his stay, he resided in an apartment building that had an elevator. Each of the many individuals that came to see him there was escorted personally by Rabbi Wasserman to the elevator, where he waited with them until their departure. This, in Rabbi Wasserman’s view, was the escort that he owed each of his guests.
The Chofetz Chaim holds that a guest cannot waive his right to the minimal level of escort. That is because failing to provide any escort at all is compared to spilling the guest’s blood; one cannot say to a fellow Jew, “I give you the right to spill my blood.”
The distance one should escort a guest is therefore dependent on the situation. If the city streets are generally safe, the requirement is less. If they are dangerous, the host must do all he can to assure his guest’s safe passage. If the route is well marked and easy to follow, the host need not worry about pointing out the way. If it is confusing and poorly lit, however, the host must make sure that the guest sets off in the right direction. In an area where there are dangerous neighborhoods nearby, the host must do his best to prevent the visitor from wandering into them accidentally.
Even if a guest only has to walk across a quiet suburban street, the host still has an obligation to escort him the minimal distance. As mentioned earlier, the guest’s personal safety is not the only issue. Equally important is the opportunity to send the guest off buoyed by the feeling that “My presence counts.”
Step by Step
When guests depart from my home, I will make sure they have accurate directions to their next destination.
Taken from “Chofetz Chaim: Loving Kindness – Daily Lessons in the Power of Giving,” a project of Mesorah Publications and the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation
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