Q:I find myself in a dilemma regarding what comes first, hachnasas orchim or the comfort of my kids? I live in a small apartment. And when guests come, I need to give them my kids’ bedroom. This takes me back to my childhood. When we lived in Europe, a guest was an excitement because we had the ability to accommodate guests comfortably. Then my family moved to Israel where we lived in a small apartment. Consequently, I had to give up my bedroom for guests and sleep on a mattress in the dining room or squeeze into a bedroom with my siblings. Besides the discomfort, I felt that my own private space was being taken away from me… After my older siblings married, it became a weekly thing every Shabbos for me to give up my bedroom. When I became a teenager, I said No more… Then I was to blame that we couldn’t have any sleepover guests…
I do want to teach my kids hachnasas orchim. But there is no way I am going to let it come at their expense. What is the right thing to do?
A:You are making a mistake by posing your question as an “either/or” dilemma. All too often parents see issues in black-and-white terms, losing sight of the huge grey area in between.
Hachnasas orchim is a fundamental component of Yiddishkeit. And when we perform this mitzvah, we are following in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. The Torah tells us: “And he planted an eishel in Be’er Sheva” (Bereishis 21:2). What does “eishel” mean? Rashi (Kesuvos 8b) explains that eishel is an acronym for “achilah, sh’siyah and levayah.”
The reward for fulfilling this mitzvah is exceptionally great. As Rabbeinu Bachyei explains (on Bereishis 21:33): “From tradition [we know that there are] two [times the words] ‘and he planted’ [appear in the Torah]. The first is: ‘And He [Hashem] planted a garden in Eden to the East’ (Bereishis 2:8). The second [is mentioned in connection with] Avraham (Bereishis 21:33). This is to teach you that whoever grabs onto the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim will merit Gan Eden.”
It is fitting, therefore, that you want to teach your children to practice hachnasas orchim. Since you had to give up your room each week for this mitzvah, you resented the imposition. You felt that your privacy was disrespected and your feelings were disregarded. As a result, you were left with some very negative associations.
How, then, can you bring guests into your home without your children feeling resentful and deprived? The key word here is balance. You must try to balance the needs of the guests with the needs of your children. If children are made to feel special and important, they will be willing to make sacrifices for guests.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a touching story of Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. He once had to choose between attending the Agudah Convention and attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. In the end, he decided to go to the convention. Years later, his son, Harav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, the father of that bar mitzvah boy, was asked if he had felt hurt.
“No, because I always knew my father loved me,” he replied. He then explained why he was so secure in his relationship with his father. One of the reasons was that whenever the Feinsteins had Shabbos guests — even if it was a prominent Rav or Rosh Yeshivah — the young Reb Reuven was never asked to give up his place at the table next to his father.
My point in relating this anecdote is not to suggest that children should never be asked to make sacrifices for guests. On the contrary, they should, because it teaches them not to be selfish and to consider the needs of others. Rather, I want to point out that children must always get the message that their feelings count.
This can be accomplished in many ways, only one of which is the method Rav Moshe chose. Other strategies are to invite guests only for eating and not for sleeping. Or, one can invite guests for one or two meals but not all three. Or, one can invite guests every other week instead of every single week. Or, one can make sure to focus the conversation for at least part of the meal on topics and stories specifically geared to the interests of the children. Or, finally, one can include children in the family conversation prior to inviting guests and then respect their feelings without sending them on a guilt trip as you described your experience as a child.