By Malkie Gordon Hirsch

Around the time that I attended my first trip with NCSY, my entire perspective on having company on Shabbat and yom tov changed.

Up until then, the idea of entertaining was fraught with stress and anxiety—and this is coming from someone who’s pretty well-versed in the kitchen.

If I was confident about how the food came out, I’d be nervous that there wasn’t enough variety. If I was having people whom I owed invites because they had had us for meals previously, I’d be nervous if there were moments of silence at the table.

If it wasn’t one thing, it was another, and so on and so forth.

My anxiety came from a good place, from wanting things to be perfect—for the company to get along and enjoy the food, for my kids to refrain from fighting at the table, and for me to be in the moment and enjoy it all instead of stressing out about the things that didn’t go as planned.

In our Orthodox culture, we’ve set impossibly high standards that could prevent us from appreciating the work that’s required to pull off catering these elaborate Shabbos meals every week because it’s something that most of us have grown up around.

For those who don’t know what it takes, it requires organization and having the right inventory for the prepping and cooking, creating a menu with the proteins, salads, sides, and desserts, executing said menu in your spare time when you’re not tending to kids or working, and then there’s inviting the company and setting the table.

There’s making sure the non-observant company knows what’s going on during the meal, clearing the table between courses while setting up the next course while trying your hardest to keep the kitchen from looking like a tornado tore through it.

It’s a tall order, but for those of you reading this who grew up knowing Shabbos only one way, it seems like our normal way of doing things.

That was, until I had my first experience inviting some of the ladies whom I had the opportunity to tour with for the last two summers in Israel.

Suddenly, my nervous energy that usually goes hand in hand with having company was alleviated when I realized that this meal was nothing like what they were used to having at home on their regularly scheduled Friday night.

They weren’t like us. They didn’t frantically leaf through the latest kosher cookbook or rifle through the latest Fleishig magazine for the trendiest new way to modernize our traditional Shabbos foods.

They came in and were awed by the tablecloth I must’ve washed food stains out of 10,000 times.

There was a plethora of inquiries over the Kiddush fountain that Jeremy poured his wine through to quickly and efficiently serve everyone a taste of wine.

They loved the dishes and asked about the gefilte fish recipe.

They sat and looked around at the things we’ve been doing on Shabbos since we could remember, but for some of them, it was their first time doing it.

It was their first invite into an Orthodox Jewish home that observed Shabbos and for a fleeting moment, I looked at things through their eyes and realized how silly I had been.

I silently berated myself at how much internal stress I caused my nervous system before they arrived and in that, I was taught an incredibly valuable lesson in the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim.

I learned that we’re focusing on inviting our friends and neighbors, and that’s all well and good when someone needs an invitation. But think about all the people surrounding you in your community who might not have places to eat on Shabbos.

Think about the older woman without local family who lives on your block. She might stay home instead of wanting to invite herself to a neighbor’s home.

Think about those you know who are divorced or widowed, with kids at home, and those who don’t have their kids that week because they’re at their other parent. Imagine what it feels like when their Shabbos schedules don’t align with their friends’ schedules, and they find themselves alone for what’s known as the most meaningful day, when there’s little else to distract from the knowledge that no one has thought of them.

I remember how stressful every Shabbos and yontif was for those years between losing my husband and getting remarried.

Every week, I had to plan what we’d do and how I’d make it the best it could be. Thankfully I was always able to count on my parents, siblings, and my mother-in-law to be there and pitch in on a regular basis both Shabbos and during the week.

Still, it was exhausting and stressful and I came to dread the one day that’s supposed to be the most enjoyable in our week, because many times I found myself having to do the planning for myself.

Because many times, I wasn’t asked what my plans were. And many times, I didn’t want to ask anyone for help.

It was then that I realized that it didn’t matter how fancy the food was or how creatively it’s been plated.

The coordinating napkins and tablecloth are a wonderful addition, but they’re also meaningless.

The only real thing that mattered was that someone thought of me and my kids. That they asked me if I needed somewhere to eat.

The people eating at your house don’t care what you’ve cooked. They’re just happy to belong somewhere instead of being alone. It’s not about inviting the people back who have invited you. It’s about being there for those who need it.

So, the next time you decide to make it a week where you’ll open your home to guests, consider inviting someone you have never invited before.

The best-case scenario would be that they’ll come and be appreciative to you for opening your home and yourself to them.

And the worst-case scenario would be that they’d decline your offer but never forget that gesture.

And the best part? Both cases are a win.

This coming Shabbos and yontif will be one of self-reflection and thinking about what you’ve accomplished in the past year and maybe what you’d like to take on. A new goal or something to work on within yourself to improve upon.

I’ve been gifted an opportunity to not only be involved in NCSY’s outreach mission to educate those who live outside our fold and to include them, but also to know what it feels like to be someone who needed that outreach from others not too long ago.

And although the journey has been difficult, I wouldn’t want to change how it’s contributed positively to my life.

I wouldn’t want to stop and worry about what I’ll make this Shabbos and whether it’ll be good, because just having a table of people who want to be there elevates the meaning of Shabbos. Not the appetizers or the napkin rings or the material matters.

This coming year, my berachah to you is that you’re able to open your eyes to recognize what truly matters, to make positive new choices, and to achieve endless opportunities to make a difference within your communities.

And the merit of our efforts to think of others should finally bring the coming of Mashiach in our time.

 

Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.

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