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The “Poor Guest”

Even a poor guest needs to be treated with respect

The “Poor Guest”
This story will tell us that there’s always more than what meets the eye and even a poor guest needs to be treated with respect. Rabbi Saadya Gaon lived over 1,100 years ago in the time of the ‘Gaonim’ the great Torah sages after the time of the Talmud. Locally he was respected by the people who knew him and listen to him teach Torah. They accorded him great honor. But there were no photographs of people at the time and when Rabbi Saadya was away from his hometown not everyone knew who he was. As a result he wasn’t always accorded the respect coming to him.

Once, Rabbi Saadya traveled to such a place. He went by foot and after a long day of travel he was very tired. He knocked on the door of a wealthy Jew. The woman came to the door asking “who is there”? The rabbi answered:  “A poor Jew from far away that needs a place to stay.” She opened the door and Rabbi Saadya said to her: “I only ask to stay a short time. I’m not from here and I have nowhere to stay.” This woman was not overly fond of having guests, especially poor ones but she let him in.

She sat with her children to a lavish supper and didn’t offer him to join them. Instead she gave him some old bread which he was thankful for and he mumbled under his breath thanks to G-d for giving something to eat.

Later the rich man came home and asked who the guest was. She said that “he was some poor man that came in and I even saw him mumbling under his breath when I gave him some bread, he was probably cursing me under his breath.” The man got angry and didn’t even bother greeting Rabbi Saadya… he went to sleep.

The next morning Rabbi Saadya stayed there for there was nowhere else to go but the man instructed his wife: “Don’t give him anything for breakfast... let him be hungry without food.” His wife was happy to oblige and gave him nothing to eat. Rabbi Saadya saw that he wasn’t getting any food so he said to himself: “no problem it’s all for the best” and he sat down and started learning Torah.

A letter came to their home and the man started to read it. It was a letter from the head of the exile in Babylon who was a very important person. The letter said: “Esteemed friend, I want to inform you that the great Gaon Rabbi Saadya is son coming to your town and that you should prepare to greet him with great honor since he is the greatest Torah sage of our generation”. The man told his wife what the letter said and said “we must prepare the house! Rabbi Saadya is coming! Give him a special room and make sure we have really good food for him…” He then turned to Rabbi Saadya and said: “Listen… you’re going to have to leave now, we’re having an important guest Rabbi Saadya coming soon and I’ve got to prepare the house for him.”

Rabbi Saadya said: “I’ll stay till midnight and when the great rabbi comes. I’ll leave then.” The woman then asked: “Why did you curse us?” Rabbi Saadya answered: “G-d forbid! It’s forbidden to curse any Jew quite the opposite I bless you for hosting me… I was just saying thanks to G-d for the food he gave me.” The couple started preparing for Rabbi Saadya while Rabbi Saadya was thinking of what to say when they found out that it was really him already in their own house being seriously mistreated. Meanwhile 2 Torah sages came in and saw him there and started talking with him saying over words of Torah. Rabbi Saadya said wonderful things and they were impressed. They asked the woman: “Who is that man? He really knows Torah and he’s a “Talmid Chacham” a true Torah sage!” She replied: “Him? He’s not a sage at all. He’s just a poor man that got stuck here that is soon leaving.”

The sages went back to speaking words of Torah with Rabbi Saadya and it became apparent to them that he was really Rabbi Saadya. The woman heard this and almost feinted. She quickly ran to tell her husband: “We’ve done something terrible the man we have here is really Rabbi Saadya!” The man threw himself at Rabbi Saadya’s feet and begged him for forgiveness: “Please great rabbi, please forgive us. I beg of you to forgive us for how we treated you.”

Rabbi Saadya calmed them down and talked reassuringly: “I will forgive you on one condition; that you from now on treat every person nicely and not just important people.”
 
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