Ask The Rabbi

Ask The Rabbi


Manners and deeper meaning


what means

דְּבַשׁ מָצָאתָ אֱכֹל דַּיֶּךָּ פֶּן תִּשְׂבָּעֶנּוּ וַהֲקֵאתוֹ. הֹקַר רַגְלְךָ מִבֵּית רֵעֶךָ פֶּן יִשְׂבָּעֲךָ וּשְׂנֵאֶךָ.

Manners and deeper meaning

Shalom and thank you for your question! You wish to know the translation of the passage in Proverbs (Mishlei) Chapter 25:17. It translates as: “Visit your neighbour sparingly, lest he become sated with you and hate you.” The classic Torah commentator known as Rashi (which is an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) explains this as follows:

“Visit your neighbor sparingly, just as, if you find honey, and it is sweet to your palate, you must not eat (too much) of it lest you become sated with it and vomit it, so should you visit your neighbor sparingly although he is from your midst (even if he is a family member) refrain from going there daily lest he become sated with you and hate you. According to its deeper interpretation – do not accustom yourself to sin inadvertently and to constantly bring sin-offerings and guilt-offerings to the house of the L-rd, who is called a friend to Israel, as it is written (Song of Songs 5:16) ‘This is my beloved and this is my friend’.”

This passage and Rashi’s interpretation give us much food for thought. There is much more here than meets the eye at first glance. For sure it is good advice to be tactful and not impose on a friend, neighbor, or even family member by visiting too often or overstaying one’s visit. However there is a deeper meaning here that relates to our relationship with G-d, which affects our whole outlook on life and everything in it.

The book of Tanya by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi is a basic text of Chassidic teaching. Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains many important concepts, such as the structure of the soul – which is a veritable part of G-d above (above in a metaphorical sense – ‘above’ physicality), what is our purpose in life, and how to go about achieving it. G-d is infinite and way beyond human understanding. He is spiritual but He created the physical and ‘there is no place devoid of Him’. The Midrash (part of the Oral Law that was handed down to Moses at Sinai) says that G-d desired to have a ‘dwelling place’ in the lower worlds. If G-d is everywhere, what does this mean? It means in very very simplified terms, that G-d wants us to behave in a G-dly way, so that He will feel comfortable with us in this world that He created. We are commanded (Deuteronomy 6:5) “You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.” How we can be commanded to love is a topic for a separate essay, but I mention this here to point out that when we love someone, we do what will make that person happy. I recently heard a story about a man who said to his rabbi that he loves his wife very much, the proof being that he bought tickets for her and himself to travel to Paris. The rabbi told him “Your wife hates to travel – she wants you to take out the garbage!”

So we see that if we love G-d, we are to behave in the way that He outlined for us in the Torah. Torah is a Hebrew word coming from the same root as the word ‘horaah’, meaning instruction or teaching. The Torah is the blueprint of the world and the instruction manual. It is not enough however to carry out the instructions, it must be done sincerely, devotedly and happily, and this is the point the commentator Rashi is making in his above explanation – ‘do not accustom yourself to sin inadvertently.’ When we are in a relationship we need to focus on making that relationship mutually satisfactory, and if we are focusing on that, we will remember more often to ‘take out the garbage’ and thus there will be less need to apologize – bring a ‘sin-offering’.

When humanity has done its utmost to make the world the kind of place that G-d wants to ‘dwell’ in, that He feels that His presence is truly valued and desired, the third Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and we will merit the fulfillment of what it says in Psalm 126:5 “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” This will be the ultimate, true and complete, final Redemption. May it happen soon!