Latest update: April 2nd, 2012
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My friends and I recently had a compelling discussion on a subject that I thought might be beneficial to share with your readers. Some of us admitted to having a very tough time balancing the need for family privacy with the desire to have invited guests over to share our Shabbat and Yom Tov meals.
My friends complained that when they tried to divide the time evenly, no one would cooperate, least of all their husbands. The only accepted notion is to invite (anyone and everyone), or to be invited (as guests in someone else’s home). No time is set aside to be alone with one’s immediate family.
And if one meal is “available” there is a mad rush to invite someone. (Heaven forbid that they should take the time to interact with one another!)
While I am not anti-social by any means and know that the mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim is very important, there is a limit to this very special mitzvah. And I am sure that when Hashem created Shabbat as a day of rest physically and spiritually, He did not mean for us to wear ourselves out.
Why can’t we find a healthy balance in inviting guests to our homes and being alone with our families? Are we so fearful of getting close to one another?
These same friends also complained that they are pressured to attend mid-week simchas, leaving no time to help their kids with homework or sometimes even to prepare for Shabbat and Yom Tov. I know attending simchas is a mitzvah, and we should only be blessed by Hashem with mitzvot and simchas, but there is a time for everything.
How do we deal with this issue and still maintain shalom bayit? I myself have a very small family and not many events to attend, but I feel for those who can’t bring themselves to say no, as well as for those who don’t find time to enjoy their own families at home.
According to the Pirkei Avot, we should dedicate our lives to Hashem, Torah, and to family – one another. The Torah/Kabbalah says that the partners in creation of a human being are Hashem, husband and wife, and this connection needs to be maintained in all our actions in Jewish Life. We can’t neglect our duties to these partners.
Who’s missing out?
Your friends (those perpetually “on the go”) are missing out. Their own gardens may be in need of tending. In order for blooms to flourish, they require far more nurturing than an occasional spritz of water – unlikely to yield a healthy growth.
The act of always running to simchas or constantly seeking social companionship outside of one’s immediate family is usually symptomatic of an underlying problem that is in desperate need of fixing.
Rather than suggest that there is a limit to the mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim (can there be a limit to the actual performance of a mitzvah?), let’s explore the definition of this particular one.
An orach is one who is in need of accommodation, of a place to eat or rest; a person who is in need of a respite, such as an overworked/exhausted mother (who may happen to be your daughter/daughter-in-law/mother/sister/friend/neighbor), a lonely person (single/divorced/widowed), or a baal(as) teshuvah seeking to learn/integrate, etc.
Getting together for meals in each other’s homes for purely the social/entertainment aspect of being in the company of friends is an indulgence that should not be confused with the true connotation of the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim.
A get-together that deprives children of their parents’ attention and/or imposes on another family’s private time, or is a burden on an already overstressed/overworked wife/mom/homemaker, can furthermore be defined as a wrongdoing!
Even to secular society’s way of thinking, dinnertime is conducive to family bonding – consider how much more we stand to gain by spending quality family time at the Shabbos table!
Those who fret about being deprived of the mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim can relax. Each Friday night we are privileged to greet the exalted guests who accompany the male members of our family home from shul – yes, the malachim, whom we herald with the singing of Shalom Aleichem.
And, ultimately, the dignity and holiness of Shabbos is brought home to us when we welcome our most prominent visitor, the Holy Shechinah, embracing His presence in our midst with the singing of Lecha Dodi. (Can one begin to fathom how much nachas our Father reaps when He perceives how we treat our own, whom He has entrusted in our care?)
The way we conduct ourselves on Shabbos directly affects our weekday and impacts on our overall shalom bayis. Shabbos is not about having a good time – it is a special interval, a divine gift accorded us as a means of getting in touch with our lofty essence.
This is not to imply in any way that multiple families getting together cannot enjoy a spiritually uplifting Shabbos. There are many simcha’dik occasions that lend special meaning to the holy Sabbath. But to fritter away the ideal time for connecting with one’s own and oneself is a shame, if not downright sacrilegious.
As with most everything, moderation is the key. The average family should be able to maintain a healthy balance between having guests over and spending quality family time with one another. Yomim-Tovim, it should be said, are ideally suited for extended family visits and for having others, who would be grateful for the invitation, join you. The important thing is not to lose sight of who we are, why we’re here, and what Shabbos and Yom-Tov are really all about.
Chag Sameach to one and all!
About the Author: 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, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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