Photo Credit: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
In last week’s column, I published a letter from a young family who had started life as secular Jews and later became ba’alei tshuva. Both parents work, teaching in yeshivas.
Their oldest son was Bar Mitzvah a few months ago, and in order to please both sets of grandparents, they decided to make a catered affair, albeit against their better judgement, since they could ill afford it. When the time came to send out their invitations, they initially discussed trimming their guest list, but were told by a number of friends that there is always a certain fallout, so invitations were sent to their entire family and friends.
To their surprise, almost one hundred percent responded affirmatively, and while that was unexpected, they were nevertheless happy to see that so many people cared enough to attend. What was very disturbing to them however, and what prompted them to write, was the lack of consideration on the part of many of their guests, who replied that they would participate in the dinner, but left right after the smorgasbord.
This not only represented a great financial loss, because the caterer had to be paid for each place setting, but it was also very depressing and demoralizing for the ba’alei simcha as well as those guests who were seated at half empty tables. The following is my response:
Your decision to air this matter and bring it to the attention of our readers was a correct one, and I certainly hope that many people will now think twice before they respond to an invitation affirmatively when they know full well that they will not stay for the dinner. But before we address that issue, I would like to discuss some other aspects of your letter.
You write that you live on a very tight budget, and that, against your better judgement, you made a catered affair for your son’s bar mitzvah in order to please the grandparents.
There are many things that we have to do in order to accommodate parents and grandparents, but making a catered affair that we cannot afford is certainly not one of them!.
‘Who is wise?’ our sages ask.
‘He who knows his place.’
This teaching has many implications, one of which is to know your financial limitations, and not spend recklessly.
You certainly could have explained to your parents that, as much as you would have liked to make a catered party for their sake, you simply could not afford it, and therefore would limit your celebration to a kiddush in shul following davening. I believe that your parents would have understood that, and if not, they could have opted to sponsor a party to their liking. I’m writing all this, not, G-d forbid, to hurt you or to shower you with recriminations…. Baruch HaShem, you had your simcha, and you should be happy about it. I am certain that despite your aggravation, it was a very beautiful and meaningful event – an experience that you and your family will always cherish. Nevertheless, I am pointing all this out so that our readers may benefit from your experience, for our sages also teach, ‘Who is wise’ ‘He who learns from every man.’
As to those irresponsible guests who replied that they were coming and then left right after the smorgasbord, I’m certain that, despite their rude behavior, they were well intentioned. They did not want to insult you by telling you that they could only stay a short while.
We live in a high pressure society. It’s difficult for parents to go out at night. There is homework to be done with children; babysitters are not readily available; men have to get up for early morning minyan; mothers for babies in the middle of the night, etc. etc., so it’s readily understood that some people just can’t spend a whole night at a simcha, but nevertheless wish to drop in to extend their good wishes. However, they should be honest about it and not mislead their hosts. Not only do such people waste their host’s money, but they also diminish the spirit of the party with the empty seats they leave at the table.
I personally have been to simchas where there were five or six people at a table set for twelve, and that is depressing. It would be by far more honest and considerate if people would signal their intentions from the start:
“B’ezrat HaShem, we’ll be happy to attend, but please do not make dinner reservations for us. We will not be able to stay for the entire evening.”
Before concluding this discussion on simchas, there is one more aspect of this subject that I would like to bring to the fore that you did not touch upon.
When people are invited to weddings or bar mitzvahs in modest catering halls, they tend also to give modest gifts, rationalizing that it’s not costing the ba’al simcha that much. If however, one is invited to a lavish affair, their gift is usually commensurate with the cost of that affair. After all, how can you give a small gift when you are invited to such a party? If you think about it carefully however, you will realize that there is something unfair about this. Most often, the modest affair is being hosted by someone of meager means, someone who could really benefit from a generous gift. Therefore, we should re-examine our methods of celebrating.
May HaShem grant that we have the merit of participating in one another’s simchas in a true Torah spirit.