A blessing includes whatever foods the person making the blessing intended to include. If a person decides conclusively that he has finished eating, then he has to make a new blessing if he changes his mind and decides to eat more.
However, an exception is made for a guest. The halakha considers that a guest’s intention is always to be prepared for anything the host may present to him. In other words, a guest is hardly ever in a situation where he had no intention whatsoever for a new course, since he defers to the host in regard to the menu. The Rishonim inferred this rule from the principle mentioned in the Talmud, that even if a guest decides he has finished his meal he doesn’t have to stop eating, since his decision has no weight in someone else’s home (Berakhot 42a).
This rule gives us a thoughtful insight into the delicate status of a guest. It reflects the guest’s honor, but also his dependence. It is the responsibility, but also the prerogative, of the host to decide what to feed the guest; the guest cannot take care of himself, since nothing in the house belongs to him. The Talmud urges the guest to recognize the honor he receives and acknowledge that the host exerted himself solely for the guest’s comfort (Berakhot 58a). But our Sages also indicate that the guest should follow the instructions of the host (Tractate Kallah chapter 9).
Tosafot (Berakhot 42a) extend this idea to reach a specific halakhic ruling. If someone decides to finish his meal but is obligated by the halakha to eat more, it as if the guest decides to finish but the host – in this case the Lord of Hosts – intends to feed him more. For this reason, say the Tosafot, someone who intends to make a concluding berakha before he has eaten the “afikoman” (matza eaten as dessert at the Pesach Seder) has not actually concluded his meal, and may go back and eat the afikoman without making an additional blessing.
The halakhic reasoning of the Tosafot bears within it a profound moral lesson. All of us are merely guests in this world. The world does not belong to us but rather to its Creator, and we are only visiting here for a short time. We are completely dependent on HaShem, and He in turn gives us a dignified livelihood. However, we should not make the mistake of thinking that we are the masters and the world merely serves us. Our decisions, while significant, are not decisive, for “Man proposes and God disposes”. (As the old Yiddish expression has it, “A mensch tracht un G-t lacht”.) Just as the guest has to acknowledge that the host exerts himself for the guest’s comfort, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the wonders and delights of creation that HaShem makes available to us. But ultimately the guest needs to follow the instructions of the host – we must diligently carry out all of His commandments.
Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.