I like having guests for Shabbos. Especially in the winter. Not just because of the long Friday nights, but also because, unlike in the summer, I don’t spend the entire seudah sitting right under the noisy air conditioner for all the conversations where I’m just nodding along and smiling but also missing all of it and no one has any idea.
The issue is that these days, my wife and I are too tired during the week to think about running around extra on Friday. Shabbos itself is nice, but Friday is a mad rush of extra cooking, plus we have to clean the bathrooms, plus sometimes it’s the type of guest who thinks they’re being helpful if they show up super early so that you have to have the guest room ready and entertain them while you cook.
“Um… here. Clean the bathrooms.”
Plus, no matter how tired I am, I’m not one of those guys who will openly fall asleep on the couch in front of his guests. So if guests are coming, it’s a lot of work. I have to stay awake until I go to bed, which is unheard of. Have you heard of it? Me neither.
Plus I have to start thinking about whether I’m going to be awake enough for Shabbos early enough in the week to actually invite someone. Like on a Monday or something. I feel like Yosef Mokir Shabbos.
Does Monday make sense? I find that no matter when I call certain people, it’s either too early or too late. If we call on Monday, they tell us it’s still too early in the week to decide. If we call on Thursday, we just missed their decision. “Yeah, we already decided to stay home.”
There’s no reversing that. The judgement was sealed.
In fact, I have a sister who, when we call her too early in the week, says, “We don’t know our Shabbos plans yet.” And to be polite and not pushy, we say, “Um, okay. Should we call you later in the week?” And she says, “Sure.” And then we call her later in the week, and she says, “Okay, these are my Shabbos plans: We’re going to this other person. Who is not you. And here’s what we’re doing the next ten weeks.”
“Okay. Did it occur to you that we were calling earlier to help you make your Shabbos plans?”
And she says, “Yeah, but you’re biased toward us going to you. I wanted to make a fair and unequivocal decision.”
I don’t have time for this nonsense during the week. I have six days of work to do.
Baruch Hashem, though, we have a teenage daughter who loves loves loves talking on the phone, so now she’s our social secretary. She doesn’t even have to ask us if she could invite someone. She just does it, and if they say yes, she lets us know. I highly recommend this. That’s one way to deal with inviting people as you get older and more tired: Have a teenager. They’re the reason you’re tired.
And anyway, I can’t speak for my wife, but it happens to be that I’m not good on the phone. My goal when I’m on the phone -- and I make this abundantly clear -- is to get the other person off the phone as quickly as possible. Especially if they agree to come for Shabbos. If I invite someone and they say, “Yes,” that’s it. I don’t want to have any more conversation with them, because what will we talk about on Shabbos? They’re all like, “What should we bring?” and I’m like, “You can ask me on Shabbos.”
“Is it cold in your house?”
“You can ask me on Shabbos.”
“What if you can’t hear me over the air conditioner?”
That’s how we deal with balancing our desire to have guests with the fact that we’re too tired to invite anybody. The other way some people deal is by telling everyone, “Just invite yourself,” like they’re all your social secretaries.
People say this to us all the time: “Just invite yourselves.”
“Okay. Do we have to let you know?”
I actually do have one brother who invites himself, usually the same week that my wife’s parents invite themselves. But that hasn’t discouraged him. He just checks now. After enough times of me saying, “Okay, but you’re going to have to share a room with my in-laws,” he now starts off the phone call asking if by any chance my in-laws are coming that week before he even tells us why he’s calling. I don’t think it’s anything specifically against my in-laws, but we have one guest room.
The other way people motivate themselves to keep having guests is that they become the type of people who always have a million guests at their table, so that when they don’t, they accidentally make way too much food and the whole Shabbos feels weird. We all know people like that. I have an aunt like that. For years, she told us, “Just invite yourselves,” and we told her, “Our family is too big to just invite ourselves at this point.”
I don’t know why we say this. She knows how big our family is. She was offering anyway.
So finally, one slow Shabbos, she just straight-up invited us. It was just her family, our family, her divorced friend, two kids of another friend who was in Israel at the time, the bochur who lives in their basement, a special-needs kid that my cousin works with, and an elderly non-religious friend who runs a workout class down the block. And my aunt turns to us on Shabbos afternoon and says, “We invited you guys this week specifically because it’s a pretty quiet Shabbos.” Her husband would have agreed, but he was off on a Hatzalah call.
She’d wanted to have us for a while, because our kids are basically the same age. And also because she gets a kick out of introducing me as her nephew, because I’m two years younger than her, and people are like, “Wait. Your nephew? How does that work?” And then they stand there while I explain to them how nephews work. I don’t say anything new. I say, “Well, she’s my mother’s sister,” and they say, “Oh.” And I say, “younger sister,” and they say, “That explains it.”
My point is that if my aunt ever said, “We want a quiet Shabbos; no guests,” her kids would yell, “What?! That’s not Shabbos!” There’d be so much pressure that she’d have to say, “Okay, you know what? We’ll still have a quiet Shabbos; we’ll just invite five sets of people who don’t know each other instead of the regular twelve.”
I say “five” because don’t know if a boarder is considered a guest. I think that once someone is there enough weeks in a row, they’re no longer a guest. You don’t really make anything special, they have to come into the kitchen and serve themselves buffet style, they have to take a turn emptying the table along with the kids, and you’re perfectly willing to fall asleep on the couch in front of them.
It’s like you go to these people’s houses and they have a mother-in-law there, and you’re thinking, “Oh, I didn’t realize they’d have other guests,” and the guy says, “That’s just my mother-in-law. She lives here now.” And my brother would go, “I’m out!”
But that’s just people like my aunt and uncle. And meanwhile, I won’t invite two families over for the same Shabbos meal, because I’m wondering, “Do they know each other? What will we all talk about?” I don’t think that coming up with all the conversation topics should be my job. I did the cooking.
Listen, I don’t need you to show up with a wine. I want you to show up with some conversation topics. Bring a stack of index cards, and leave them in a corner before Shabbos. I think of article topics every week; the last thing I want to do is think of more topics on Shabbos for free. This is why I have a social secretary.
On the other hand, who wants to come if they have to bring conversation topics? I’ve been invited to people’s houses, surprisingly, and I know I’d be thinking, “Uch, I have to bring conversation topics? When do I have time to come up with those?”
You’re the one who invited me. I didn’t ask for this.
So some people just come up with a d’var Torah. I think this is why every Shabbos has a parsha. The chachamim knew. But unless it’s a really long d’var Torah that takes up the whole meal, you still need more topics.
“Um, how many courses are there going to be? So I know how long to make the vort.”
Also, if it’s that long, you’re probably not going to be invited back. I’m just stating facts here.
My aunt and uncle get a kick out of mixing and matching guests, often with hilarious results. Whereas I’m like, “What will they talk about?”
But I don’t think you’re supposed to know in advance. I think the idea of inviting people you know who don’t know each other is good for generating conversation topics.
“So who are you again?”
“Wait, you don’t live here?”
And you can be off in the kitchen prepping the food and not miss any information that you don’t already know. Or you can sit under the air conditioner.