The Empty-Handed Guest

I came across this internet chat at the site, Chowhound.  A women brought up this problem which bears on our portion which we read on the intermediate Shabbat of Passover. 

“I entertain a fair amount, several times a week. Not large lavish affairs, but dinners of 4, 6, 8 people. I love cooking so I enjoy having friends over and trying new dishes. Normally, I buy and prepare all the ingredients, and the guests bring wine or dessert. This works out great for everyone I feel. A friend of mine who lives very close, started to come to dinner often, I would suggest a wine when he asked what to bring.  Somehow, over the course of months, I am no longer asked “what can I bring?” and he is now bringing his partner to dinner. They come over, eat the dinner, partake in cocktails and wine. I honestly would be happy with a six pack of beer, and appreciate the gesture and be happy. …Growing up, I was taught a guest shouldn’t  show up empty handed, a box of chocolates or cookies or something should be brought…. What do you suggest? Next dinner, even though I am not posed with the question “what can I bring” should I say, “if you are coming, please bring x”. What do you think?”

The expression “empty-handed-reikam”  appears in our portion.

In connection with the three pilgrimage festivals of the Torah, Passover, Shavuot, and Succot, the Torah records God’s words.  “And none shall appear before me empty-handed.”   (Ex. 34:20)

The essential idea of the Torah following the example I bring above is that we are guests at God’s table.  This is especially so during the festivals when we are invited, as it were, to make pilgrimage and sit at God’s table bringing offerings in appreciation. 

How many of us are aware of this requirement of the Torah? How many of us enter the festival period with some sort of gift or offering for God.  How many of us sense that we are guests in  God’s universe, and that as guests we should not appear at God’s table of creation empty-handed?

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