SHABBAT: Having guests and parenting, by Coty Bitton


This Friday you can feel a sense of excitement at our home. My husband told me that this Shabbat we are hosting a group of young teenagers from South America, who we do not know, and need a place to say.  Besides our weekly preparations for Shabbatthere is plenty of extra work.  More beds are needed, may be. And we will have to add an extra table in the dining room. And more shopping, of course. We want to make this Shabbat’s menu special in honor of our guests.

This is my personal “Shabbat magic time”.  My daughter is singing while she sets the table. My son, who had to leave his room for our guests, drove already twice to the supermarket, but did not complain even once.  Everybody is willing to help, and happily! We have made the Mitsva of hakhnasat orehim part of our family’s mission statement.

But there is also a little bit of concern…. We don’t know how many guests are coming… “What if they are too many, mom? What if there is no room in the table for all of us”, my youngest daughter asks me.   The Mishna portrays the residents of Yerushalayim as very hospitable. During the three festivals they opened their homes for their brothers who would came from every corner of the land of Israel. And “No person ever said in Yerushalayim, the place is too small for me”. I think that this describes not only the feelings of the guests but also what the hosts felt. I explain my daughter that no place could ever be too small, because kindness expands your mind, and allows you to see that your house is as big as you want it to be.

“But, ima, do we know these boys or their families?”. No, I said, but what a great opportunity to meet Yehudim you never met before.  Remember in this week’s parasha the story of Ribqa? Did she know Eliezer? And still she acted with extreme kindness to him.”

In our Shabbat table our job will be to make our guests feel comfortable. Giving them the feeling that they are welcomed. We must engage in conversations that will be interesting for them. The focus of tonight’s dinner will shift from our own gratification to our guests well-being. We will allow them to have a glimpse at our family time. And at the same time we will be exposed to their lives and experiences.

And I think to myself: the reason of this Mitsva is to do hesed  (=kindness) with our guests. To help others, who we might not know, give them food to eat and a place to sleep. But hakhnasat orhim is transformative for my own family as well!  The real hesed is done with us, with my children.   One the most beautiful gifts I can give my children is the feeling that they are needed. Specially today, when entitlement is epidemic, this beautiful Mitsva allows each of my kids to unfocus on the “I” and refocus selflessly on the other.  Receiving guests is a priceless opportunity to open the doors to our homes and the windows into our lives to, sometimes our unknown brothers and sisters from Am Israel.

When Eliezer asked for a place to stay, Ribqa generously offered to host him, his men and his camels at her parents home. Now Eliezer realizes that she is the one that will keep the tent of Sara wide open.  Ribqa is the woman who will be capable of filling the empty space left after Sarah’s departure from this world.

Today, I see my children walking in the same path that Abraham and Sara, Ytshaq and Ribqa, walked a long time ago. Thanks to the Mitsva of hakhnasat orehim they will learn once again that to be a good Jew you need to be, first and mostly, kind and caring.