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The Shabbat Primer

The Mitzva Of Hospitality: Being A Host

Keeping Your Hospitality Growing

Recall The Importance Of The Mitzva And Its Effect On Others

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.

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.

Remember Your Good Times

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.

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 about details."

Pace Yourself

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 yourselves."

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