Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Our Hebrew calendar months tend to move around a bit. Unlike Shabbos, they were determined according to a decision of the Beis Din and set to fluctuate dependent on the waxing and waning of the moon. Shabbos never fluctuates. Dependable as the eternal sun, which always rises in the east and sets in the west, Shabbos arrives punctually every seventh day. There are no surprises.

In our family, however, Shabbos and surprises are synonymous. No two Shabbosim are ever the same. Shabbos is always an Unknown… until it arrives.

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Since Sunday is a work day in the Holy Land (Six days thou shalt work..), Shabbos is the time for family gatherings. Scattered as we are across the length and breadth of the country, gatherings mean packing up, traveling and returning home so that Shabbos and Travel go hand in hand (suitcase in suitcase?).

Some people think going away for Shabbos means a holiday – a quiet, relaxing, work-free day. But they don’t understand. We don’t go to hotels; we go to each other’s homes. That means preparing food (you don’t want to come empty-handed, do you?), packing (shall we bring our own linen?), gifts for the kids and leaving your own house nice and clean for the people who will be staying there while you’re away (they’re coming to see their own relatives in your neighborhood).

It also means helping your hostess and attempting to keep the kiddies from feeling too much at home in someone else’s house, even when that home is your sister’s! Sometimes it’s easier to stay home and have the family come to you. Fortunately, several of our relatives live within walking distance, so we can migrate locally – one meal here, one meal there; one week at our table, one week at someone else’s – while remaining in our own beds.

One problem with visiting families is flexibility. One never knows who will show up or cancel at the last minute. You’re expecting a family of six as of Wednesday; on Thursday morning you discover that two kids have to be in yeshiva or ulpan (girls’ high school) that Shabbos. Or the baby got sick (they always manage to do that davka the morning you plan to leave). Or someone was called up unexpectedly to the army. Or you’re asked to take in someone who showed up in the neighborhood and has no place to stay except at one of your homes.

One Shabbos last year we invited a son and daughter-in-law who were looking forward to a quiet Shabbos with us. When their older daughter heard they were coming, she called. “Bubby, can we come too? I’ll bring food. What do you need?” (It obviously didn’t dawn on her that I might say “no” and of course she was right.) Half an hour later her younger sister called. “I just heard everyone is coming to you and Zeidy for Shabbos. Can we come too?” (Sure! Feel free!) She also brought food. (She’s a great cook!)

It was a bit crowded but we were all family so we didn’t mind. Until another family member who lives nearby heard of our festive gathering and suggested that we all eat a meal together. I gulped.

“How many kids?” I asked gingerly. “Only four. The others aren’t here this week. Plus us of course.” Of course. But she (bless her) meant that we should come to their house for a meal, not that they should come to ours. And so it goes. As my daughter always says, tzrichim lizrom… flow with it, Imma. So I try to stay afloat and ready myself for whatever wave comes next.

Which is all fine and good except that I flow more slowly nowadays. I’m never quite sure how much to buy, bake or cook or which hechsherim I might need (it’s a wonderful opportunity to give a bit of business to all reliable hechsherim). My freezer is usually full, but never with the right things. (How can it be if I never know what I’ll need?) When out-of-towners come to us (we have out-of-towners in Israel too), shall I prepare four beds, two beds or no beds? Which room will they prefer to sleep in? Each room has its own advantages or shortcomings and each family has its own preferences. How many extension boards should we shlep out for the table? I also have to make sure I have enough of the good Shabbos candles, the kind that stay lit.

So I tell all potential guests that I prefer to receive Shabbos requests a week in advance but by Wednesdays, the latest. Of course it doesn’t help. How can anyone know what they’re doing by Wednesday if all the changes occur on Thursday and Friday? So we flow…….

There must be some great lesson in all of this although I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it’s a reminder that we are never truly in control of anything, not even minor things in our own domain, like who’s coming for Shabbos. Which means that we obviously have no control over major issues outside our own dalet amos. The most we can do is to do the best we can and accept whatever comes our way. Graciously and with a smile. Lizrom.

You know what? It works!

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Yaffa Ganz is the award-winning author of over forty titles for Jewish kids, three books on contemporary Jewish living, and “Wheat, Wine & Honey – Poetry by Yaffa Ganz” (available on Amazon).