What a pleasure, what a relief, you think to yourself.  Your family has been invited out for a Shabbos meal.  No cooking, just enjoyment.  Or so you believe.  Naturally, there is the usual protocol and even duties of a guest:
*Be on time
*Bring a gift of appreciation
*Help serve the food, help cleaning off the table
*Be congenial,conversational
*Pay attention to hosts’ children
But is there also a protocol for the responsibilities of the host?
The answer is a resounding yes.  The obligation begins and ends with showing regard (respect if you will) for your honored guests.  It demands a sensitivity to the needs of your guests to feel comfortable in your home.  It requires a true sensitivity to Hachnasas Orchim.
    Under this category, let us examine the role that basic hygiene should play in and around the Shabbos Table:
    You are excited to receive your Shabbos or Yom Tov guests.  You have prepared a veritable feast and the Shabbos table is gleaming white and silver.  As an added touch, there is a stunning bouquet of flowers as a centerpiece.  The aromas cascading out of the kitchen, are simply tantalizing.  But that very same morning, your six year old, Shloime, comes down with a runny nose and a fever.  Surely, you will not insist your own child stay away from the Shabbos Table?  It’s nothing you haven’t dealt with before.  But, have you spoken to your guests about it?  Perhaps Reb  Goldberg has a special function to attend after the weekend?  Can he afford to be in such proximity to this virus?
    Miriam, too, has caught the nasty cold bug.  She is the one that helped prepare the salad. Naturally, you insisted she first wash her hands, but she was doing an impressive amount of coughing.Did you just place a stumbling block in front of your ‘blind’ guests?
    Moishe cut the melons for dessert.  Instead of cutting them on a proper cutting board, he did so on the kitchen counter, absently displacing a dirty dishrag. You noticed but chose not to make an “Inyan” of the matter.  Did you, in the end, shrug and tell Moishe to stick the fruit into the serving bowl and  then run and take a shower?  Chaim licked the cake frosting with his finger.  Did you take the initiative and simply straighten his artistic mess with a spatula and then put it out for the guests?
    Your husband, with or without a tickle in his throat, has recited a beautiful Kiddush.  He drinks from his Kiddush Cup and then proceeds to pour from the same into individual Kiddush glasses for attending guests.  Did your company sign up for this sharing of saliva?  Worse, your husband ,himself, is nursing a cold.  Over Hamotzi, he handles each individual slice of Challah, dipping  them into the salt.  It’s o.k. you think.  No one particularly cares.
    Miriam, the cold-ridden child who made the salad, also set the table.  The fact that she set the table  handling the forks and knives at the wrong end is over-looked in favor of  her volunteering to set the table in the first place.  Naturally, you could not possibly find the time to re-wash those germ-infested utensils:  What you can’t see, can’t hurt you, you reason.
    The meal proceeds smoothly.  All the delicacies are beautifully displayed on the table, the drinks are out and the conversation is flowing.  You feel a slight tickle in your nose followed by a series of sneezes.  What a lady, you quickly cover your mouth and nose with your hands, careful not to spread the germs. “Allergies”, you tactfully explain away. Still in the next instant your husband asks for the soda and you proceed to handle the bottle with the same germy fingers.  You are not through with  your sneezing and the next round, very ladylike, you use your napkin , leaving it neatly bunched at the side of your plate.  Chances are, it will be picked up by some one else when it’s time to clear the table.
    Finally, it’s time for dessert.  The cake you have salvaged from Chaim’s artistic endeavor is served. The guests oooh and aah as you carefully serve individual slices onto the guests plates.  In between, with a look of contentment, you lick your fingers to remove traces of the chocolate frosting that managed to adhere to you skin.  Delicious for you, off putting to your guests.
    Coughing, sneezing, blowing ones nose at the table are all habits that potentially sabotage your guests comfort level as air borne saliva finds its nesting place on the food served. (Note carefully if your children have been properly taught to turn away from the table, coughing and sneezing into the crooks of their arms.)
     Scratching one’s head, removing dirt from one’s eyes, picking at something stuck between one’s teeth, sticking a finger in one’s ear, wiping one’s nose with the back of a hand, or even picking one’s nose are all irksome, hygenic no-no’s that all too often share the Shabbos table along with good food, zemiras and the Shabbos bride.
    Have we, in our zealousness of pursuing the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, forgotten that it must be of a real benefit for the guest and not for yourself?  These scenarios, brutally depicted, regretably, occur time and again, in countless religious homes, across social, ethnic and class divides.  While we are inarguably known as the People of the Book, some Frum families have seemingly turned the ‘page’ on basic hygiene principles. It’s time to re-examine the wider definition of Hachnasat Orchim to include hygenic sensitivity towards your guests.
    While it is perhaps gratuitous to post signs on our doors:  Enter at your own risk or peril, it is not superfluous to hold hygiene related discussions with all members of your family before you further undertake this very important Mitzvah.  In light of flu seaon and just in general let us be mindful of:
Derech Eretz kadmah l’Torah
Basic Hygiene before Hachnasas Orchim
May we all be zocheh to be wonderful hosts and comfortable guests.  Shabbat Shalom
As reported VINnews