A seat at the table (Daf Yomi Pesachim 89)
“Take your portion and leave.”
Did you ever have friends who drink inordinate glasses of expensive liquors at dinner, while you are a one-glass of wine person and the beverage bill comes to multiple times the amount spent on food and they divide it equally among the table? You consumed maybe fifty dollars of food and wine at a moderately-priced establishment (it is New York!), but the bill comes to one-hundred dollars or more per person when it is divided evenly. The group is drunk, so they are blissfully unaware of the inequity, while you are left feeling ripped off. You have the choice to sit there steaming and hand over your hard-earned dollars, to say something and ask if you can contribute just your share and risk being seen as a cheapskate, or just accept it and attribute the cost of the evening to a night spent with good friends.
The last option, which is the most generous in spirit, might not be the one that feels the best at the time because you spent the night with people who got progressively drunk, while you stayed cold-faced sober. As they were passing around the glasses and falling over each other with stories that would seem significantly less interesting in the light of morning, you were planning your week ahead and trying to determine when it was best to leave and shove fifty dollars into someone’s hand.
Today’s Daf Yomi discusses a similar situation with the sharing of the Paschal lamb. A group of people would register for a single lamb and each would be allocated his portion. We are told to watch out for someone with “fine hands,” which in the context of today’s reading means someone who eats more than his portion. We are told that our fine-handed fellow diner may claim that there were no preconditions set as to how much he can eat; an olive bulk is considered the minimum size of a portion, but the upper boundaries of what is acceptable is open to debate.
The Mishna tells us that for the sake of a peaceful sharing of the lamb, a group can set rules as to the size of an individual portion. And if the rules are broken, the members of the shared Paschal consortium can say to the guy with fine hands: “take your allotted portion to eat and leave; don’t take any more from the other members’ portions.” And this holds as true for the sharing of the Paschal lamb as it does for sharing ordinary meals for the sake of companionship. The group of friends can say to someone who takes more than his share: “take your portion and leave.” He is essentially dismissed from the social group and told to form his own, even if it is just a group of one hungry person.
Something may be lost if a person is evicted from a group because he has a larger appetite than most, or a hunger deep within that he cannot fully control. He may have great stories that he shares with the table or good advice or is someone who is so generous despite his unfathomable hunger or because of it, that he performs good deeds in the world.
We are told the story of Rav Pappa who ate four slices of bread to every single slice that Rav Huna consumed when they shared a meal together. Like the agitation I feel when I am at a table with a group that is running up a liquor bill, Rav Huna suggested to his dinner companion that they divide the bread evenly during a meal. Rav Pappa responded, “you accepted my companionship, and it is improper to now retract.” In other words, an evening with Rav Pappa, regardless of how many slices of bread he consumes, is worth the price of the check.
Rav Pappa makes a distinction between determining portion size of the Paschal lamb and enjoying an evening with friends. In the former example, he said it was reasonable to set limitations on the size of a portion. In the latter case, when one dines with friends, “it is with the understanding that each one will fully participate regardless of how much he eats.”And there is always someone who eats even more, like Ravina. Rav Huna joked that for every slice he ate, Ravina devoured eight.
I have learned that there will always be someone with a greater appetite than my own, but if they are wise like Rav Pappa, or funny like Rav Huna, the restaurant bill is worth the price of admission for a seat at their table. And now more than ever, I will appreciate that seat and table when the restaurants open up again in New York.