Second Guessing: Kitchen Closed| May 23, 2023
This year, I decide, for Shavuos night, we’re going to have a meal centered around Torah
mother tells me I hold up the world. She also says I’m brilliant and beautiful, so I do take what she says with a grain of salt, but when I’m squinting at a screen late at night, trying to get all the numbers to align, I try to remember her words. I don’t know about me, but Yaakov is definitely holding up the world. Learning isn’t easy for him, and he works so hard, I’m in awe.
I always say kollel life isn’t a decision you make before you get married; it’s a choice you make every single day. Be the family breadwinner, make do with less, have different standards than others, and then do it all over again tomorrow and the next day and the next. If you so choose.
I’m ten years in and loving every minute of it. The focus on something so much bigger, being a part of something so much larger than you and your ecosystem. The weeks fly by in blurs of work, kids, bedtimes, park dates, diapers, and teething. Shabbos is when we slow it all down, take it in, and really make our money back.
I call it “cashing in on my nachas,” because honestly, without Shabbos, I’d never see Yaakov.
Oh, there’s snatched conversations in between morning, afternoon, and night seder, jokes about, “Don’t I know you?” and, “Hey, stranger” as he runs out to Maariv, as the things you’ve promised yourself would never happen in your home, things like sinks of dirty dishes and kids in mismatched pajamas, occur before your eyes because you are just. Too. Tired.
But not on Shabbos. On Shabbos, Yaakov and I sit at the seudah for hours. It doesn’t matter if we have guests or not, we sit and schmooze and nosh and laugh until the candles have burned down, while kids fall asleep on various bits of furniture around us. And because of this, our meals have become legendary, if I do say so myself. The yeshivos and seminaries have us in those infamous little black books underlined three times as “chavayah!!!!!”
And we enjoy having them. Mostly. Except for the times when I want to erase our names from the books with the same conviction of a third grader who got a math problem wrong. Because here’s the other thing about Yaakov: he attracts Lost Boys like he’s Peter Pan.
He’ll come home from Kabbalas Shabbos, two or three boys looking defiantly over his shoulder, no jackets or hat, some with streaked hair, some looking like yeshivah boys but with a look in their eye that says, “You have one chance to prove to me that all people are not garbage.”
They don’t scare me anymore, these boys. Call it old age, but I just see them as lost. And little. And I’m happy our home can be a safe haven, because they always come back.
But I do pay a price. At those meals, instead of the table conversation being schnitzel day in yeshivah, parshah, and gedolim stories, we discuss Fauci, Biden, and real estate prices in Lakewood. Which is fine, because everyone feels comfortable, and that’s really the goal. Also, Yaakov does always ensure there’s at least one beautiful devar Torah.
This year, I decide, for Shavuos night, we’re going to have a meal centered around Torah.
It’s only when the calls start coming in, and I hear the first cheerful, “Gotta check with the boss,” that I realize how much it means to me not to have these guys.
“What if we have a meal just us Shavuos night?”
Yaakov looks surprised, but not unhappy.
I gesture to the table, where our dinner is waiting.
He knocks three Playmobil people off a chair and settles into it. “Is that what you want?”
I nod, my conviction growing with each passing moment. I imagine little Sari singing, “Hashem gave us a present,” Mordy being the center of attention with his carefully penned divrei Torah booklet (perfume shop mashal, anybody?), and Yehudis wearing that heaven floral romper with the matching bonnet. We’d all just be together, on the same page, no need to lower our standards or squirm uncomfortably while people discuss divrei chol at our yuntiff meal….
“Yes. Yes, it’s what I want.”
Yaakov smiles. “I love it. I’m all in.”
I spoon coleslaw onto our plates. “Who called before?”
Yaakov’s smile dims. “Pinny. But it’s fine. I’ll tell him he can come in the day, yeah?”
“Mhhhm.” I nod, even though an entire yuntiff alone would be amazing. “Totally, invite him for the day.”
Chezky called the next week, and then Abe. So did Sruli and his brother, and then Pinny again. But Yaakov stood strong, and they’re all joining us during the day.
In the meantime, the kids have decked out the house with flower decorations, and I may or may not have bought out the shekel store. Apparently, we’re going for a “more is more” tablescape, but it’s adorable and I’m loving it. We’re all singing “Hashem gave us a present” round the clock, and I’ve made three cheesecakes out of sheer indecisiveness.
Pinny calls one more time on Erev Yom Tov.
“What’d he need?” I ask Yaakov, my voice rising somewhat defensively. We’re so close to doing it, to actually having the Shavuos meal of my dreams. And yes, I know I’m making a big deal out of this, but it’s important to me.
“Nothing, nothing. Deen, what should I do next? Sponja?”
Fine, so don’t tell me. Maybe it’s better I don’t know.
The seudah is everything I wanted it to be, and more. First of all, the food came out amazing. Like, feature-me-in-a-magazine amazing. And my tablescape was beyond; I went with a garden theme. The kids kept saying, “Faaancy!” and I know Yaakov appreciated how yuntiffdig everything looked. But it was the singing, the laughter, the sharing that really pulled it all together. And after the main, when the kids were already fading out on couches, Yaakov and I sat and made a l’chayim, toasting the special lifestyle we’ve chosen. When I waved him off to shul afterward, I had tears in my eyes. This is it. This is the evening I’m going to look back on during the regular grind of everyday life when my dreams turn heavy, and I can’t remember why I chose this in the first place.
Mordy is the first one to mention something. “Pinny slept in the shul!” he announces triumphantly. I pull the salad croutons out of the pantry and blink at him. “Hmm?”
He plops into a chair dramatically. “Pinny slept in shul. He told me!”
We’d all walked to shul at seven thirty to pick up Tatty from Shacharis after a full night of learning. I mean, we’d been raring to go since six, so why not. I guess Mordy bumped into Pinny then?
I grin. “Mords, it’s hard to stay up all night. A lot of people probably fell asleep in shul.”
Mordy thinks about this, carefully peeling the wrapper back on a Har Sinai cupcake.
“But Pinny slept before the Tatties learned!” he says triumphantly.
“Hmmm?” I ask, already distracted.
We’ve called the meal for two, and we traipse out to the park at around 12, because the day is endless. Actually, I’m pretty sure three days have passed since Yaakov fell into bed at eight.
Chaviva is sitting on the one bench with adequate shade, looking like a sleepwalker. She shifts over, and I drop next to her.
“Almost. There,” I croak.
She laughs tiredly. “Yup. This is totally part of nashim b’mah zachyan, by the way.”
I grin. “Oh, this is like 50 percent of the mitzvah. How was your meal?”
She sits up straight. “Forget about my meal, how was the Rabinowitzes’ no-guest, family-only Shavuos night?”
I sigh happily. “A dream. Total, total dream. Wait, how’d you know about it?”
She looks uncomfortable. “Oh, uh, Baruch met Pinny in shul.”
I nod. “Nice. So did Mordy.”
Chaviva nods. “Yeah, he told me that Pinny ate a sandwich in shul until learning started. Apparently, he couldn’t find a seudah, so he just hung out there until the learning started, and they brought out the cheesecake buffet.”
IÕm going to be sick.
My eyes blur. I look around desperately to make sure my kids are all right, before leaning back against the bench and closing my eyes.
Pinny didn’t have a Yom Tov seudah? At all? The poor kid sat alone in shul eating a sandwich while I had tablescapes and Torah-shaped chocolates and three cheesecakes?
I want to cry.
But I had needed that so badly. I needed the family time, the closeness with Yaakov, the celebration of Torah. Why does it seem like I’m the only one who hosts these boys? Where was Chaviva and my 17 other neighbors?
But Pinny… Pinny needed a seudah. And I’d said no.
I spend the rest of the day feeling the guilt in the pit of my stomach. But what could I have done differently? What should I have done?
All I can think is:
Should I have done anything differently?
Zahava Schneider, 60, New England
Many (many) moons ago, I was one of the few (two?) out-of-town girls in Bais Yaakov Intensive Seminary. As a result of a one-time Shabbos rejection experience back then, I never say no when I am asked to host anyone, so no one could be more surprised than I at my reaction to your dilemma pitting Pinny’s need versus your need. Rachmanus and chesed competing with self(ish). My kids would think I’d say this is a no-brainer. Yet your genuine need (not desire) could not have been met any other way. And Pinny could have found himself another seudah. The fact that he was still stuck Erev Yom Tov suggests that his need/desire to have the seudah davka at your house is a smokescreen for deep, serious stuff. But you weren’t dismissing him — and you invited him for the day meal. Also, I cannot believe that there was absolutely no place for him to go — do not accept that guilt. I would add that perhaps your husband could have been more proactive in securing him a meal elsewhere.
Faigy Begun, 45, Jackson, NJ
I think you did the right thing with regard to Pinny — minus the guilt! You always open your home graciously and warmly, and you really did need the time alone this Shavuos. If you don’t recognize when you need your own space and give it to yourself and the family, you will start to resent the times that you open your home. Pinny’s story sounds really sad. It’s sad that he had no seudah, but really his sadness is much deeper than that. It’s sad that he couldn’t figure out another solution even though you told him long ago that this meal wouldn’t work. His problems are more pervasive than just one meal, and you are there for him in so many ways. Knowing your own personal limits will give you more space to give to him in the future.
Another really important point is that we have to relinquish our personal control and importance. Hashem is directing Pinny’s life in the same way that He has given you such a beautiful life. You made a good decision for yourself and your family with much introspection and thought. Had it been right for him, Hashem could have given Pinny another meal. Hashem is not limited to your hospitality when He directs Pinny’s journey.
Sara, 43 , Israel
Having family meals is an incredible thing, especially for families that have a lot of company (no matter what type of company that is… even if it’s Torahdik company). In our home, we reserve the first night of every Yom Tov just for family (and one meal on Shabbos Chanukah). It’s meaningful and memorable for us and for our kids, reinforcing that no matter how busy you are with other things and other people in Klal Yisrael, our family members are really the most important people in our world.
You should never be someone’s only address for a meal, and, “This week isn’t going to work for us” is a phrase everyone, especially people who always have company, should know and use (appropriately and occasionally). We are all human. Things happen: simchahs, new babies, we get sick, kids get sick, we have a hard week, are exhausted, we have girls’ meals that we can’t invite boys to, and boys’ meals that we can’t invite girls to, and meals that we go out for and can’t bring our guests to.
In this case, when Pinny called so many times, you could have picked up that he needed help finding a meal and tried to help him find a place, but he doesn’t belong at your family-only meal.
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(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 844)
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