Friday, July 4, 2008

Achieving a Harmonious Shabbos Table - Part 6 - Guest Post



Part 6

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.

Shabbos Guests

Shabbos guests can enhance the meal in many ways. First, they give children opportunities to practice the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. Parents should teach their children that when a guest arrives, they should greet him warmly, make him feel at home and serve him something to eat or drink. Similarly, during the Shabbos meal, the children should serve the guest after the parents.

Throughout the meal, guests can greatly contribute to the Shabbos atmosphere by joining the zemiros, giving an inspirational d’var Torah and perhaps even giving the children some added attention that they may be lacking.

Although having guests can bring benefits to the Shabbos meal, parents must also be cautious of dangerous pitfalls that can harmfully affect their children’s chinuch and emotional development.

In general, parents tend to focus their attention on their guests, consequently minimizing the attention that they would normally give to their children. Undeliberately neglecting the children can manifest when the child says his d’var Torah and the parents are hardly listening to him or hurrying him to finish. It could also happen during the family conversation, when the adults are busy talking among themselves about topics of little or no interest to the children. Boredom and neglect can occur when the guests are strangers.

At times, parents may receive a call from a yeshiva or Bais Yaakov seminary that is holding a Shabbaton in their area and are looking for families to host the students. Other times, a local outreach organization may ask families to host some potential baalei teshuva for a meal to be mekarev them or have a positive influence on their lives. Although it is a tremendous chesed to have baalei teshuva as Shabbos guests, and the “Shabbos experience” at your home may make a lifetime impact on them, nevertheless, it should not be done at the childrens’ expense. A young child once remarked, “I would like to be a baal teshuva, a Russian or even a convert, because every time they get invited to our Shabbos meals, they are the center of attention!”
I have even experienced Shabbos tables of professional mechanchim, where the children were “seen but not heard” due to the parents’ constant involvement with their guests. Eventually, the children left the table in the middle of the meal and didn’t even return for benching with a zimun. I have also been at a Shabbos table of about 15 guests, where the older children were completely lost in the crowd (I didn’t even know that the couple had older children until the end of the meal). It is difficult to really know a child’s feelings in these situations. A child may be very resentful that outsiders are stealing his parent’s time and attention from him, especially if they show impatience when he wants to talk or say a d’var Torah, and they seem to have all the time in the world for the guests. Harboring resentment toward parents can cause a child to be rebellious in his adolescent years.

The proper way to conduct a Shabbos table with guests is to first give the children proper attention and have the guests observe how you conduct the meal. Ideally, parents should inform guests of this practice beforehand so they do not feel offended. The zemiros and divrei Torah shold be conducted as usual, and each child should be given ample time to contribute what he or she learned in school that week. After giving children their full attention, parents can then focus on the guests, without being concerned that they may feel left out. On the contrary, guests usually enjoy observing a Shabbos meal where the entire family is present and harmonious. Their “Shabbos experience” is further enhanced when they see how children honor and serve their parents—behavior rarely found in the secular world.

I heard about an interesting practice of an outreach professional, who solved the “problem” of Shabbos guests by first eating his regular meal with his family and then conducting another meal for prospective baalei teshuva. A good example was Rav Moshe Feinstein, who never neglected his obligations to his own children. His youngest son, Rav Reuven, was always seated next to his father at mealtime. Even though the children were taught that the needs of others came before their own, he always sat next to his father no matter how many guests were at their table (Reb Moshe, Artscroll, p. 163).

Another word of caution to parents: Be careful to whom you expose your children. Some people may be the type to criticize or speak lashon hara, use vulgar language or discuss subjects that you would not like your children to hear. (This commonly occurs with people who are first becoming observant and are still attached to their old lifestyle.)

Sometimes parents may feel obligated to have Shabbos guests because of a desire to do chesed. However, Rav Chaim Friedlander writes, just as there is a halacha that states that giving tzedakah to one’s closest relatives takes priority over giving to others, the same is true with the mitzvah of chesed – one’s family takes priority over others (Guide to Chasanim, p. 62). Parents should not do chesed with others if it detracts from their obligations to their children.

Rav Avraham Pam once remarked that when the townspeople of Brisk complained to the Brisker Rav that he wasn’t giving enough time to communal affairs, he replied that his first priority is to be mechanech his children.


Children may also feel neglected by parents who attend long kiddushes on Shabbos morning, keeping them waiting for parents to return before they can eat the meal. This scenario makes children feel that others are more important than they are, especially if the home meal is rushed on account of a late kiddush. In the event that parents must attend a long kiddush or aufruff, it may be wise to take their children with them.

There are two important halachos for parents to be aware of regarding keeping their family waiting for the Shabbos meal:

1. Children below bar and bas mitzvah age are permitted to eat before kiddush, because it is prohibited to cause them distress (Mishna Brura, 269:1; cf Sefer Chanoch Lenaar, ch. 16, footnote #3, which writes that this halacha also applies to the Friday night kiddush).Therefore, if they get hungry before the father comes home from shul, they should be allowed to eat.

2. Chazal relate that when Rav Zeira saw people engaged in Torah study on Shabbos, he would tell them, “Please do not degrade Shabbos.” Rashi explains that because of their Torah study, these people would neglect to enjoy Shabbos, which is considered chilul Shabbos (Mesechta Shabbos, 119a-b; Rashi s.v. “Mehader”). Similarly, this halacha applies to parents who delay their return from shul and keep their family waiting. Causing one’s family discomfort in waiting for the Shabbos meal is a form of chilul Shabbos.

(Picture courtesy of Shaarei Tzedek Windsor)

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