We have very different views on the issue of having guests over for Shabbat meals. One of us feels strongly that Shabbat should be for bonding with our own children after a hectic week, while the other feels just as passionately that we should have guests over at our home often.
We have a terrific marriage, B’ezrat Hashem, but this is a sore point in our relationship as we have such differing views.
Tamar and Eitan
Firstly, please accept my congratulations on the quality of your marriage. A home imbued with shalom bayis is, in my opinion, the greatest gift that you can give to your children. A quality marriage never comes easy, but it is well worth the energy and effort that you invest in the most important relationship in your life.
As for your dilemma regarding Shabbat guests, it is difficult for me to give meaningful guidance without knowing the two of you, the age of your children, and many other variables that will impact on my response. Having said that, permit me to share some questions on this subject. Hopefully, exploring the answers to these questions will help you resolve this matter.
My first question would center on the objections of the spouse who does not wish to have guests over. The stated reason for not wanting company on Shabbat was to ‘bond with the children.’ But is that the only motive for rejecting company? I would suggest that it is entirely possible that your spouse may just want to be left alone after a long week (essentially to bond with him/herself – or you, for that matter). Personally, I suspect that is the case, and the ‘bonding’ matter is only part of the picture.
If this is the case, I think that the one who wants company ought to wisely step aside most of the time and allow his/her spouse the quiet time he/she needs. Why did I not suggest that you divide things evenly? Because I think that for some people, ‘quiet time’ is a necessity not a luxury – a ‘need’ not a ‘want.’ As such, the one who craves down time should take preference.
Another question to ask is, “Are the people we are inviting our guests or our family’s guests?” If it is a married couple with children; are their kids close in age to yours, and are the children compatible with each other? Either answer is fine. But be aware that if the guests are yours, in all likelihood, the rhythm and talk at your Shabbat table will be of little if any interest to your children. Thus, you should see to it that when you have adult company over, you afford your children the right to be excused from the table when they wish to do so. Failure to do so will quite possibly create resentment on the part of your children and they will start thinking: guests = long Shabbat meals where we are stuck at the table with people who talk about things we don’t care about.
Finally, you may want to ask yourselves if you are maintaining the proper balance between the needs of your children/family and the demands of your social obligations. Always keep in mind that your primary responsibility is to provide for the needs (and wants) of your children. Sometimes that responsibility means pulling in the welcome mat and bonding with your spouse and children.
Obviously, if both of you jointly agreed that having company over would not negatively impact your children or your quality of life, I would most certainly encourage you to have guests as often as you felt was appropriate. But, this does not seem to be the case in your home setting.
I read your question with interest as I presented a similar question to my great rebbi, Rav Avrohom Pam z’tl about ten years ago. About that time, I had just started both Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Project YES, and suddenly there were dramatically increased communal demands on my time. I told my rebbi that I was concerned that I was not spending enough time with my children during the week, and that I thought I ought to discontinue our practice of having guests over for Shabbat. I asked rebbi if canceling the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim at this stage in my life was in accordance with Torah hashkafa (philosophy). Rav Pam fully supported my decision. He told me that my primary obligation was to the children that Hashem blessed us with, and if I felt they needed my time, it was not only ‘permissible’ not to have guests, but the proper thing to do.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved