The Opportunity Presented By the Invitation

Hmm, Motzoei Shabbos gleanings include a glossy, 16-page color brochure of a Chinese auction, three different fundraising letters, a thick packet from the Department of Education reminding me in $6 worth of material of the wonderful benefits of suntan lotion, a birthday card that sings when you open it and doesn’t stop, and a reminder from Best Death Inc. that a dream burial plot could still be available at $13,999.99 — IF I purchase car insurance that may save me up to 15 percent in 15 minutes.

Tada, there they are: Three chasunah invitations, two for “simchas chassan v’kallah,” one for the seudah, a bar mitzvah invitation to the Kiddush and a bar mitzvah invitation for the “dessert reception.” Two of them have return cards; three just say, “A return card we do not send, because we hope you will attend.”

“Harrumph,” I say to myself.

“Harrumph,” I say to my wife.

“Harrumph,” I say to my kids.

Little did they know that they were witness to me in the throes of one of the most intractable predicaments known to man. After the tuition catastrophe and shidduch crisis, the simchah dilemma is shaping up to be the third rail of Orthodox Living: 2013.

“To be, or not to be,” William Shakespeare was said to have pondered 400 years ago.

“To go, or not to go,” tens of thousands of heads twirl in anguish today.

Oy, the problems we have today (cue New Yawk accent). You would have thought that after Y2K, the capture of Saddam, and the invention of sliced bread and the rocking armchair, we Jews would sit up and begin to enjoy life.

Listen, as opposed to “knaidel,” which has many spellings, “simchah” has a single spelling and a single definition. It doesn’t mean a sour dumpling, it means a happy occasion. The baalei simchah are happy, and so should you be to attend.

When discussing this week’s debate topic, someone mentioned a phrase which is oft thrown around, that an invitation is not a subpoena. Having made a simchah recently, I can say that I was truly happy that so many people chose not to plead the Fifth.

But when preparing for the simchah, I asked a friend of mine who had just made a simchah — a person who is well known internationally for helping people with medical crises — how many people to prepare for.

The answer surprised me.

“As many people as you think will come,” he said, “set up for half that amount.”

So here you have a person who selflessly gives his life away for other people, and they can’t manage to show their hakaras hatov by attending his simchah.

The reasons are many: I have to learn with my son, I have to spend time with my wife, I have to go to sleep early. Original.

But seriously, these are all good excuses. And in extenuating circumstances they may even be valid ones.

Growing up in Boro Park in the 1950s, my father recalls how a simchah was a neighborhood-wide affair. The mostly-Holocaust-survivor-community gathered to celebrate the rare bar mitzvah, even rarer chasunah and occasional bris with a gusto accrued from a generation of fearing for the continuation of Klal Yisrael.

Today, however, so many people walk around with the weight of the world on their frail shoulders. To some, a simchah is a time of frenzied gemach walking, interrupted by a brief flash of bliss at the event itself. Why not take advantage of the occasion to make them happy?

You may not be the only one attending, but everyone I know sits down after they make a simchah and swaps tales of who was there and who said what. How many times do I hear from people even months later that they remember that I came to their simchah? With a few minutes of your time, you gave someone a warm feeling. Priceless.

Let’s take this a step further. You hear that a friend of yours — or perhaps just someone you know from the shul — had a baby or did a shidduch. You could either give him a hug next time you meet him or you could call or text him wishing him a mazel tov. Why wait until meeting him? Be proactive in showing your happiness for your friend. It means much more.

Another point. When you send out an invite, why not add a few words to the invitation thanking him or her for making the moment possible? A rebbi or teacher deserves it. A coworker or boss. The gabbai in shul who never gives you an aliyah (maybe you’ll start getting).

Anyone who receives such a personalized invitation does not look at it as a subpoena.

Maybe baalei simchah should be more original in their invitations. When my son’s mosad makes a dinner, they raffle off a bike or extra recess. Imagine invitations with scratch-offs, tickets that can be redeemed at the chuppah, even ones that come with a calendar on the other side. That’s not a subpoena.

No, an invitation is not a subpoena. It’s an opportunity. Use it.