The Shabbat Primer
The Mitzva Of Hospitality: Being A Host
Keeping Your Hospitality Growing
Some of our resource women are especially moved to invite guests when they consider
the vital place of home hospitality in our tradition. "The home has been neglected
as the center of Jewish life," says Esther. "We've replaced it with the Jewish center
and the synagogue. That's really an imitation of Christianity and a distortion of
Judaism. I want to restore the home to its rightful place, and an important part
of doing that is inviting lots of guests."
"Now that I'm here in Jerusalem," says Shoshanna, "I feel inspired to invite
guests. I think of our long pilgrimage history when, especially at Succot, Pesach,
and Shavuot, hundreds of thousands of Jews came up to the Temple and were guests
of the people who lived here. I feel I'm continuing that tradition, and it's very
satisfying for me. It's a way to connect yourself and your company with Klal Yisrael,
with all the People of Israel, past and present."
Remembering when their hospitality really made a difference also gives our women
a strong push to invite guests. Too many people are in fact emotional orphans. This
is painfully obvious in all those young people whose "Shabbat families" are closer
to them than their real families. Shoshanna continues,
Whenever I feel tired or reluctant to extend myself again, I remember two or
three people whose lives were changed by spending Shabbat with me. I think of
one girl, especially. She was a stranger who showed up just fifteen minutes
before candlelighting time. She seemed very nice, and we had a lot in common.
But it was clear at once that she wasn't Jewish.
If at any time you feel reluctant to invite guests, recalling all your good Shabbat
moments will help pick you up. Remember how much others gave you when they included
you at their table, and remember, too, how much you contributed to your guests in
the past. Maybe it was a stranger's invitation to Shabbat dinner that opened your
eyes to the beauty of Judaism in the first place. Maybe you have done the same for
another seeking Jew or could do it now.
I kept wondering, "Who is
she? a convert? a missionary? a Mormon or Jew for Jesus?" She never gave a clear
answer. But something made me feel that this Shabbat was extremely important
for her. Thank G-d, I picked that up and didn't turn her away.
A month later she invited me over, promising me kosher food. Then, on Erev
Tu BeShvat I got a call that she'd just been to the mikva and completed her
conversion. She told me that I was her first contact with Judaism aside from
her boyfriend, who was indifferent to his religion and never pushed her to convert.
She wanted to experience Judaism directly, without him, to see if it was what
she herself wanted.
They were married in the U.S. and later made aliyah with their baby. They're
both keeping more and more of the mitzvot now. And every time they have a simcha,
they invite me.
You know, I feel that a convert is a close analogy to a baal teshuva. Both
want to find a place in Judaism. Maybe that's why I felt something in common
with her from the start.
Anyhow, whenever I feel discouraged or hesitant about inviting guests, I
think of her.
At times of reluctance, it also helps
to choose your memories selectively. Remember how well a super-easy meal turned
out or how everything ended up all right, even though you made every possible mistake.
Rachel carried it off well:
I once planned to serve curried chicken on rice. The boneless chicken pieces
were sauteed, but I had no time to finish the seasoning or add the vegetables.
But I realized that Shabbat could still be Shabbat with something to eat even
though white chicken on white rice is not so attractive or tasty. At the meal
I served without apology or embarrassment, and everyone complimented me on the
delicious food. What can you say but "thank G-d!"
Helpful memories may arise from surprising sources. "Strange as it may seem," Batya
says, "my memories of the late 'sixties in America help my Shabbat hostessing today.
It was a totally different world for me then, before I became frum. But the 'sixties
counterculture had at least one good feature; it emphasized a totally open, easy
hospitality. Everyone was free to flop on everyone else's floor, and whatever we
had, we all shared. It started me on the way to an open home. Sometimes when I get
uptight now about how much I should be providing my guests, I think of those days
and relax. I put more of my concern into caring about the mitzva and less into worrying
Asked for her advice to novice Shabbat observers, woman after woman among our experts
replied, "Pace yourself." This is a theme we repeat over and over in this book.
It bears, though, on every aspect of your Shabbat preparation. And when it comes
to getting yourself in the frame of mind to invite guests, the pace you set for
yourself can be decisive. Memories of a well-organized, relaxed Shabbat dinner encourage
you to keep advancing in the mitzva. Memories of a frantic, disorganized evening
could set you back for months.
Baalei teshuva in particular can become overly
eager in their practice of hachnasat orchim. In many cases, they have drifted about
for years and have married relatively late. With a fresh history of rootlessness
and with a home of their own now at last, they often jump headlong into the mitzva.
They feel overjoyed to be able to perform it. But sometimes, in their burning zeal,
they outpace themselves.
After their marriage, Shulamit and her husband couldn't wait to invite guests.
Both had studied about hachnasat orchim at their respective yeshivot and found that
it really spoke to them. Having just discovered the beauty of Judaism for themselves,
they were eager to bring others close to it, too. In spite of the fact that Shulamit
could barely boil water, her husband invited twenty guests for the traditional Purim
feast. "I was horribly nervous," she says, "I don't know how I got through it. And
of course I communicated my nervousness to our guests, so that not many people had
a good time. It was a big mistake, and it put me off hostessing for a long time,
I can tell you."
Keep in mind, then, both your hopes and your present limitations. Try to be honest
with yourself when it comes to the number and kinds of guests you can invite, how
long you want them to stay, and the amount of effort you can expend. If you can
comfortably go gourmet, by all means do so. But that's not the most important thing,
by far. Don't compare yourself with others. Leave yourself plenty of time, at least
one-third more than your conservative estimate. See how much you don't have to do.
Focus, instead, on the really important ingredients of Shabbat.
Dr. Jud Landes of Palo Alto, California, once said to Nechoma, "You call yourselves
Lubavitchers. That means that you ought to follow your Rebbe's example, right? Well,
if you remember, a number of years ago the Rebbe, may he live for many, good days,
suffered a serious heart attack. His doctors advised him to eliminate or cut down
on certain activities, to pace himself more carefully. Since then he has followed
his doctors' advice to the letter. And what the Rebbe does, you should do. Pace