Last week’s column featured a letter from an exasperated young wife and mother crying out for help. Much to her consternation, and against her better judgment, she finds herself “entertaining” her neighbors instead of indulging her own family with the attention they rightfully deserve.
To top it all, it is the male counterpart of this “neighborly” pair who most often pops up unannounced for endless visits at the most inopportune times, seemingly oblivious to his intrusiveness.
Unfortunately, this woman’s dilemma is not as uncommon as one might want to believe. Those who may identify with the overly friendly neighbor but were thrown by inconsequential background particulars should note that the writer, in her desire for anonymity, had specifically requested that some details in her story be altered. So, as they say, if the shoe fits…! And to those who may find it a perfect fit: You might want to contemplate the seriousness of your behavior. This is no trifling matter and infringes on much more than simple human decency.
For one, (interesting that our young mother is aware of this while her male neighbor seems not to be), our Sages advise not to converse at length with a woman (See Pirkei Avos, 1:5).
In the event that your preoccupation of trying to impress and please your next-door neighbor’s wife has left you with precious little time for learning, here are some revealing tidbits on this Mishnah:
According to Rabbeinu HaKadosh, R. Yosi ben Yochanan’s reference to “a woman” is to be understood as one’s own wife. His logic…? Since with another’s wife, even minimal discourse is a no-no, one is to presume that R. Yosi refers to one’s wife when he says “at length.”
Even more telling is this admonishment’s placement with the teaching of “ve’yihyu aniyim b’nei beischa – and the impoverished should be made to feel like your own.” Where’s the connection ? The Abarbanel sees one clearly: Should there be a woman among the poor whom you welcome into your home, be forewarned that you are to limit your banter with her. Thus v’al tarbeh follows directly on the heels of ve’yihyu aniyim.
In Mishlei we furthermore find “Sonei matanos yichyeh – One who hates gifts shall live.”
As incomprehensible as this may sound, Shlomo HaMelech astutely perceived that no rational being wishes to be on the receiving end or to become dependant on others. Rashi additionally contends that one who hates gifts will be inclined to hate theft and that we should not train ourselves to be greedy.
As far as neighbors go, our wise King, aware that familiarity breeds contempt, counseled – “Hokar raglecha mi’beis rei’echa – Make scarce your foot in the home of your neighbor lest he become weary of you and hate you ” (See Mishlei 25:17).
My dear woman, your instincts serve you well, but you must act on them in order to reclaim your life. The first and most obvious move would be to lock your doors and pay no heed to any knocking or doorbell ringing. This is a rule that every woman should abide by when her husband is not home; anybody who has anything of importance to deliver would and should call ahead to check if it is indeed an ideal time to come by.
As “decent” as your neighbors may be, they seem to have somehow lost out on some basic etiquette. And since their cluelessness has impacted negatively on your entire household, it is up to you and your husband to do something about it NOW. This is no time to fret about your neighbor’s sensitivity; charity begins at home.
A viable option would be for you to become one another’s advocate. Engaging your neighbor in a heart-to-heart, express your appreciation for their kindness and friendship, and let her know that their bring-overs of food and whatnots have become an unsettling thing for you both and has been creating feelings of inadequacy on your husband’s part. Inform her that in the interest of shalom bayis you cannot accept any more “gifts.”
At the same time, you must confide your extreme discomfort at her husband’s habitual visits to your home – not only for the inconvenience this causes you, but also for the impropriety of having another man over when your husband is not around.
Your husband should similarly approach his “friend” to initiate a man-to-man discussion. He can allude to his wife being a tzadekes from way back. Having learned that it is not right for a married woman to be in the company of a man (let alone her friend’s husband), she is increasingly bothered by his frequent drop-ins, yet has a hard time voicing her discomfort.
Your hubby should furthermore “confide” that his virtuous wife has a tendency to exert herself in balancing her devoted duties to her family, and the additional chore of entertaining “guests” has lately been draining her physically and emotionally. For the sake of her health and your children’s well-being, you have both agreed to cut down on having company for the time being.
Your outspokenness is bound to be of benefit to your neighbors, as well. And if your honesty will result in hard feelings, so be it – they shall overcome. If these people are truly well-meaning, they will more than appreciate your candor.
Oh, and about those Friday nights when your reluctant-to-leave neighbor lingers on after your husband has excused himself and gone to sleep – please forgive my candor, but your husband has no business retiring for the night and leaving you to deal with your sociable neighbor, especially when he is unaccompanied by his wife.
Notwithstanding your husband’s tender-heartedness, he must be expected to exercise some manliness, as in declaring that you guys have had a full and exhausting day and will be heading to dreamland. Echo his sentiment by bidding your neighbor(s) Good Shabbos, and then leave it to your husband to escort him (or them) out the door.
More (on Hachnassas Orchim) next week….
We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.