Rabbi Horowitz responded this week to an inquiry about having Shabbos guests where the spouses are not in agreement. The guidelines he provided are applicable in many areas of life. But, the subject gave rise to some of our thoughts on Shabbat, guests, and family time. Baruch Hashem, this is not a subject of contention in our home, but we maintain flexibility in our approach, as our grows and family changes.
In general, we prefer to have single guests (singles, divorced, and widowed), but also enjoy having married couples on occasion. Having families with younger children tends to be a bit more challenging, but can be fun on occasion. Since we both enjoyed the hospitality that others provided us when we were single, we feel that hosting those who wouldn't have family to eat with is the best way to repay the kindness shown to us.
Sitting down for family meals is a great way to bond with each other and create proper "attachments," and Shabbat is the one time when those dinners go almost completely uninterrupted by design: no phone (although I'm thinking about turning off the ringer during weekday dinnertimes when our children are older), no appointments, no chores that have to be continued from the day. Fortunately I am home fulltime and our kids are young enough that they don't have activities or schooling that conflict with regular family dinners or with Sundays. I can only imagine just what a pleasure Shabbat meals are for families that do not enjoy regular meals together.
But even given our blessed schedule, I have still found that Shabbat is an important and unique time to bond at the table and, although we love hachnasat orchim, we have settled into a pattern of normally limiting ourselves to guests just on Friday night-although we happily make exceptions.
We have found that hosting for lunch is a bit more difficult for us. Primarily, there is more shopping and more cooking, all of which ties me down during the week. Secondarily, when the weather is beautiful, it becomes really hard to pull the kids away from the park to make it home in time get everything together in time greet our guests. When we don't have anyone expecting us home, we can be flexible about our schedules and enjoy more time letting the kids play, socialize, or whatever else. Thirdly, if lunch goes on too long, we miss out on a small window of uninterrupted time to do things that interest the kids, whether it be legos/megablocks, reading, or games. Also, one of my kids has a lot to say at the table, but gets shy when other non-family members are around. So, if we want to hear about groups, the parsha, or the songs he wants to sing, it is better done without an audience. (Baruch Hashem he loves our guests and even talks about a few of them regularly and asks if he can set up their place next to Daddy-hello to one of you :) ). And, lastly, my culinary strength is in the dinner meal.
When I was single, I had a friend with a rapidly growing family who used to tell me about her plan of attack for preparing Shabbat (something she had gleaned from a book and adopted). She would start on Monday and finish on Friday, preparing and freezing or refrigerating along the way. I thought she absolutely nuts! That was until our family grew and I discovered that trying to pull off a whole meal, from the shopping to the cooking, on Friday (even on Thursday and Friday) was going to make me absolutely nuts! So a pattern was born that serves us well. An entire week's meals are planned in advance, shopping takes place at the beginning of the week, and cooking for Shabbat takes place in stages, just as the cleaning schedule rotates. Friday is basically a relaxing day where we put together one or two small dishes just so my little helper can connect Shabbat with the preparations, but not connect Shabbat to the stress and mayhem that goes on in a lot of households.
While there are people out there that will criticize mothers who don't make Shabbat a Shabbat by doing the unthinkable and serving pasta, when a family member has spent the sick during the week or the week was just too busy week, I have been known to serve spaghetti with meat sauce, or something else that lacks the kavod we prefer to accord Shabbat. Our guests may never see spaghetti with meat sauce in front of them, but we have at least one regular guest who would probably prefer this meal over any other.
I try to remember our guest’s culinary preferences, but don't always succeed (maybe I need to maintain another list). We have our "meat and potato" guys who need potato something or other. We have our non-fish eaters, only tuna eaters, and our not too fishy eaters. We have our vegetarians. We have our guests with allergies to nuts, wheat, eggs, and spinach, and nearly everything else under the sun. Then there are the times when the meal is already cooked and a guest ends up needing a place after all is cooked and completed, and they aren’t too fond of whatever I have made, or worse yet, won't even eat it. We had one meal where the hospitality committee failed to warn us that the guests they asked us to host kept chalav yisrael and it is Shavuot! Fortunately, our guests were able to eat something.
While we have had a few difficult guests, for the most part having company is really our pleasure. We try not to invite guests that are going to clash at the table, but have had our fair share of uncomfortable instances. We usually invite only guests of one gender, but would be willing to venture out into mixed gender groups if we knew the guests would be comfortable with the prospect and that last minute cancellations wouldn't leave us on a "double date" with a guy and a girl who would prefer not to be on such. In addition, we have one guest that we will NEVER invite with a person of the opposite gender because he is liable to ask her out (even if she is 25 years younger, but that my friends is a post for another time).
Our special pleasure is celebrating smachot with a number of regular guests, and we have been fortunate to do so on a regular basis. In fact, we are currently looking forward to a very special simcha.
Guests bring a whole new dimension to the table that we don't want to miss and don't want our children to miss now, and especially in the future. We have been blessed to have survivors, Rebbeim, and other wonderful people at our table, all of whom bring their own unique perspectives, experiences, and divrei Torah to our table. When we have guests there is also a level of simcha that manifests itself in song that we cannot reproduce without guests.
We get a lot of pleasure out of both arrangements, guests and no guests, and continue to find our balance. I often wonder how certain families that are known for hosting lots and lots of guests regularly do it. But, I also wonder if some families who rarely if ever have guests get lonely. I can't imagine Shabbat without at least one guest, preferable two to three. And, I sometimes wonder if the shana rishona couples who specifically don't invite-a shita we never adhered too, despite the strong recommendation to do so-ever itch for a change of pace that guests inevitably bring.
Since we have great pleasure in both types of ways to spend Shabbat and see benefits to both, we have worked to find a balance that works for us. Hosting guests really comes with a whole myriad of dynamics that probably have never occurred to those who don’t make hosting a regular activity. We have learned through trail and error. I hope the couple in Rabbi Horowitz’s column works out a balance that is appropriate for their family.