Adventures In Hachnasas Orchim

We travel back to the mid 1980s. A very important ingredient in my metamorphosis from assimilated to BT were the people from my chosen community, who ALWAYS invited me to one of their homes for every single Shabbos and Yom Tov meal. These meals were rich and very rewarding experiences, and as I transitioned to frumkeit, I was of the impression that this was how all frum communities worked all the time. If you are a Jew in shul, the community finds out if you are set up for meals, and if not, they do whatever is necessary to fill that void. I found out later with my wider experiences that I was sadly mistaken about this, but that is not the subject matter for this piece.

There came a point where I began feeling awkward about constantly receiving from the community without ever giving back. After I learned the ropes of what it meant to keep a kosher home — this didn’t happen overnight — I made a radical change in my modus operandi to rectify this situation. Every Shabbos I would prepare one meal at home and invite guests. That is, I would go to a community home for one meal, and I would stay in my own home one meal and invite guests.

Typically, I would invite one or two married couples along with a number of single people. I would also seek guests who were attending services but had no scheduled place for themselves for a Shabbos meal. Typically I would have 8-10 guests, with 15 being the highest on record.

The number of guests never really mattered to me. If people were available one way or another I would find a way to make it work. I was never short of food, so that wouldn’t be a problem. I always prepared plenty and then I lived on the leftovers for the rest of the week. I was single at the time and I never got tired of Shabbos leftovers. I still never tire of Shabbos leftovers, and I highly recommend the practice of overdoing your Shabbos food preparations. You carry Shabbos with you into the week with your cuisine, and you have that much less to prepare on a daily basis.

Back on subject however, I didn’t title this writing, “Adventures in Hachnasas Orchim” for nothing, so here are a few of the many adventures that live in my memory .. learning experiences one and all.

My entire community functioned pretty much the same way during Shabbos meals. The rabbi spoke both Friday night and Saturday and we would try to recall at our tables what the rabbi had spoken about, trying to remember all of his points as best we could. Some community members seemed to have total recall, and would literally repeat every single word. For those who could do so, this was especially nice for the wives who didn’t come to shul. We would add divrei Torah of our own — I myself would also be prepared with something — and then there would always be zemiros (songs).

We had a very nice bentcher that the whole community used, which included around 70 zemiros arranged and numbered. Someone would call out a number and we would sing the zemer (song) to one niggun (tune) or another. One of the favorite jokes of the community was that we didn’t have to sing the zemiros anymore. All we had to do is call out the number and it would be as if we had actually sung the song.

If any of the female guests joined in the singing, nobody stopped her or said anything to her. In no way would we embarrass a newbie in the process of taking in a beautiful Shabbos experience.

That was the thing about hachnasis orchim in our community. New people flocked to us, probably because of our cordiality in reaching out to them. It certainly helped with yours truly. We wanted our orchim to take home with them nothing but positive experiences. Of course we also have seichal and would speak to individuals privately about various things when we deemed it appropriate, but that’s another story and not for this article.

Kol isha was one issue we were very sensitive about, and hand shaking was another. Many times, for example, my guests would want to shake my hand before departing, and that of course included the ladies. Technically speaking, this is an halachic predicament. A man is not supposed to take a woman’s hand, but then again, a man is definitely not supposed to embarrass her. I would have to choose between the two, take her hand, or say something she could conceivably find offensive or uncomfortable. My choice was to smile and shake her hand.

Speaking of offensive or uncomfortable … and I’ll throw in embarrassing … I’ll dedicate the rest of this piece to a few “sensitive” moments in my hachnasas orchim career that I will never forget. Call them golden orchim oldies.

I once had a guest who was an aspiring professional comedian. He was a Jew with zero experience at any observant Shabbos tables. As he was used to livening up parties with his humor, he kept trying to crack jokes and make people laugh. The problem was that in the world he knew and loved, his jokes were funny, but in our far more spiritual world, his jokes were embarrassing and highly inappropriate.

Nobody knew what to say to this man. All we could do was be polite and smile. Eventually he realized that he wasn’t connecting at our table in any way. I could tell he was anguishing over this, and he started sweating profusely. Finally it looked like he just couldn’t stand it anymore. He simply stood up and walked out. It was one of the more helpless moments I have ever experienced. A rare moment I might add, where I was at a total loss for words.

Another time there was a young woman at the table who asked if she could turn off a fan. I told her that on Shabbos we Jews don’t turn fans off or on. I did not realize she was seething over my answer. At the end of the meal, she chastized me harshly for my lack of concern for her comfort, telling me that any sensitive person would have permitted her to shut off that fan.

I missed my cues on that one. I didn’t have an inkling how troubled she was that I would allow a fan to bother her meal. It never occurred to me the fan was really that disturbing. After all, I had Shabbos meals with guests in my home every week and nobody ever complained about the fan before. Had I understood better, I think I would at least have offered to find her a different seat at the table, even my own. To this day I’m bothered that I wasn’t sensitive enough to see that something was going on that needed my attention. I’m sure I would have tried harder to find a way to salvage the Shabbos experience for her.

Then there’s the story of my beef stew. My beautiful beef stew. One Erev Shabbos, I was following a recipe, preparing the ingredients, cutting the meat, slicing the potatoes, carrots, onions, and dropping everything in. Then I would add the spices, which included one simple tiny little teaspoon of salt. I picked up my large round box of salt, held the spoon over the pot, and began to pour the salt slowly into the spoon. What happened next is one of the reasons I have always felt certain that Hashem, besides being perfect in everyway, also has an infinite sense of humor.

For no reason the bottom of the salt container just fell off, and the entire package of salt fell into my stew, except for the little teaspoon of salt still in my hand. I panicked of course. I didn’t have time to make a new dinner. I removed the salt from my stew as best I could. Then I emptied the pot and washed everything including washing every single piece of meat individually.

How do you think my Shabbos dinner came out that night?

I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you. Dinner that night was a disaster, and not edible. The salt had permeated everything, particularly the meat. Most of us could only look at the food. One of my guests however seemed totally oblivious to the pain of this meal, or of the discomfort felt by the others seated at the table. He actually seemed to be enjoying his dinner, AND HE REQUESTED SECONDS, which he also finished with relish.

Was he REALLY enjoying the meal, or was he merely the perfect guest capable of sugarcoating the salt if that is what it took to please his host? I don’t know the answer, but if it’s the latter … WOW!

By the way, that incident with the salt could never happen to me today. Way back when, I didn’t understand how kosher meat was prepared and salted. In fact, I would later learn that kosher meat was already the most salted meat on the face of the planet before you ever get it past the checker at the grocery, as a result of the kashering process.

Since I discovered this about Jewish meat, never ever do I add salt to ANY meat recipe. Even when I buy things like barbecue sauces, if I see salt in the ingredients, I don’t purchase it. I find some other brand or something else to buy instead. For the same reason, I don’t buy spices that are mixtures that include salt.

When God gave the Kohanim his “bris melach” (covenant of salt), BaMidbar 18:19, that was an indication that just as salt is a preservative, so would this relationship be eternally preserved. My stew didn’t need to be eternally preserved.

47 comments on “Adventures In Hachnasas Orchim

  1. Not only weren’t Lucy & Ricky ever shown in bed together, but they followed tznius and halachas nediah enough to know that they had to sleep in twin beds, with a lamp table inbetween. Were these goyim potential Ger Tzaddikim?

    I think I need a vacation too.

    JT, the chocolate is fine, but what if the vitamin mix had grape juice in it?

  2. Shalom Jaded,

    I’m a strong believer in chocolate and laughter imbibing. Unfortunately, I’m a little too avid about the former and not enough about the latter. ;-D


  3. Well according to rabbi jaded topaz who specializes in unique heter locating and or fabricating , the “love your friend as yourself” directive , the iggeres harambans ópening statement “listen to the mussar of your father and don’t forget your mothers “torah) wisdom, that ubiquitious slogan ” its a marvelously large mitvah to act ecstatic ” , the fact that laughter is the best healer , in addition to chocolate being a happy helper especially when combined with humor and vicariously felt through viewing of an episode entirely based on chocolate imbibing , the popular saying that “nothing stands in the way of will” (heter locating) and most important the quintessentially erudite concept that a brilliant person is one who learns from everyone , I think we can conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that ” I love Lucy” watching can bring you closer to hyper happier , brilliant, wittier wholesome relationship relating and connecting for loftier living /spiritual attaining and “where there’s a will there’s a way” whittling.

    (the “mah hakesher” parts of Hebrew tests were the only parts I had answers to)

  4. And I always thought “Lucy” was a character from evoutionary biology and anthropology…silly me!


  5. Leah, I was using the term forbidden in its classically understood sense like when the Shulchan Aruch says something is forbidden.

    I don’t think that watching Lucy (or TV) is forbidden, I am just curious that those who have chosen not to watch TV in their homes, will rent Lucy DVDs. I’ve encountered it a few times and I’m therefore in search of “The Lucy Heter”.

  6. Mark,

    “No, there are many things that are forbidden in the Torah…”

    Certainly there are, but just about everything may have a circumstance where a Rabbi should be called in to rule on an issue.

    For instance, abortion is forbidden. Always? No.

    Killing someone is forbidden. Always? No.

    Eating pork is forbidden. Always? No.

    Violating shabbos is forbidden. Always? No.

    There are three things that are forbidden under any circumstances: 1. murder; 2. forbidden sexual relations; 3. idolatry.

    These all capital infractions.

    All the rest is not necessarily so simple.


  7. Okay,

    Let me change my response so as to keep it from being a blog enhancing personal communication.

    In my opinion I don’t think anyone should have shmaltz herring and beer for dinner tonight. Anything else for Jews should be fine so long as chalav v’basar or other potential problems do not get in the way.

    Always glad when I can be of help.

  8. Mark,

    “No, there are many things that are forbidden in the Torah.”

    Well, television per se, and Lucy and Ricky in particular, I’m not sure would apply in this case.

    I also am not sure why you would say Lucy and Ricky weren’t the models for tsnius if we’re talking specifically about the 60’s television show, where they weren’t even filmed in bed together, IIRC.

    You seem a tad heavy-handed today, or maybe it’s me.

    LeahL, sobered and chastened

  9. ** Mark steering the conversation back to something more productive. ;-D **

    (You’ll have to forgive me. I’m 3.25 days away from my summer vacation. I’m a little bit giddy today.)

    Actually, I think Bob’s idea for a thread is a good one: Enhancing Spousal Communication.

    I’ll have to think about this.


  10. Mark,

    There is only one answer to all halachic questions …. ready for it? ………

    ………………. And the answer is: IT DEPENDS!

    LeahL, trying to be helpful

  11. These are the type of questions where there is not always an exact answer.

    Although I’m not so sure that Lucy and Ricky are great models of tzinus. Which gets us back to the question of “The Lucy Heter” – ie how do families that choose not to watch TV or go to movies allow Lucy DVDs in their home?

  12. Shalom Charnie,

    You’re right, it’s a great topic. Go ahead and write it, and I may also, but not right away. There is room for a number of good columns on that subject.

    Regards, Eliahu

  13. Tevya,

    There is a beautiful community in Houston, TX that I belong to that is made up of BTs. I wrote about the community last summer and it was posted here. The Rabbi is in his early 30s, there are lots of young people, and there are enough older people (with married children) to keep things interesting. In fact, we just started a 20s and 30s group and had an amazing wine and cheese party Sunday night. I encourage you to check out Houston, TX (and of course, you can’t beat the cost of living down here). Good luck!

  14. Shalom Charnie,

    Not only does my husband enjoy cooking, he’s a great cook and quick too. Plus he gets an A++ for presentation. Everything always looks like art.

    I’m so glad I married him! :-D


  15. The thing that struck me the funniest (and yes, I know it wasn’t intended to be funny) about your post, Eliahu, was that I was thinking of writing a post on it’s opposite – ie, non frum people’s reactions to hearing that either we had total strangers staying over, or stayed over in a different community with total strangers. Think about it, it’s virtually unheard of outside of our world!

    Back in the ’80s a friend and I used to call a # 1-800-SHABBAT. I don’t remember who ran it, but we used to want to go to new communities for Yom Tovim, and it was a great connector if we didn’t already know anyone.

    Robin and Tevya, if you can make it to my community (the admins here can put you in touch with me) then we could certainly have you for Shabbos. It ain’t fancy, but it’s friendly! Tevya, we really wouldn’t be bothered by whatever level you’re at, we would just want you to be comfortable.

  16. Shalom Mordechai,

    I don’t know them. I read Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s book on Israel Salanter which I had a great deal of difficulty trying to understand.

    I know part of the story of the mikvah they built in Santa Fe during Rabbi Shlomo’s time. They didn’t have a lot of money but managed to get the job done for $3,500, thus proving once again, where there’s a will there’s a way, even in this day and age.


  17. Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg was here way before me. I’m aquainted with Rabbi Hillel Goldberg in Denver, who was a moving force behind the founding of an Orthodox community in Santa Fe about 20 or 25 years ago.

    As long as we’re on Jewish geography, do you know Mordechai and Elsa Cohen up there? He’s probably affiliated with Aish in some way…

  18. Shalom Mordechai,

    I know Rabbi Goldberg quite well who used to be the O Rabbi in Santa Fe, but perhaps that’s before your time.


  19. Shalom Eliahu!

    Frum in LC?! That IS a challenge! If you must come back this way some time (and if we’re still here…hope not), think about Shabbat in Santa Fe. Right now we have a pretty nice hevra together most Shabbatot. Personally, I’d rather visit Toronto. :-)

  20. Shalom Tevya,

    I currently reside in Toronto.

    About five years after I became frum, serious business realities required that I relocate to New Mexico. I lived in Las Cruces (the Crosses) for 15 years.

    There were around 5,000 Jews in the area. It is a big area for nuclear research and develpment and a university city. I was the ONLY frum Jew there.

    I never stopped being frum. No one could tempt me otherwise, although many tried. I worked kiruv constantly all the years I was there, and many good things happened because of this.

    The reason I am telling you this is because you wrote you are not frum because there is no frum representation in your area and you find it lonesome.

    I know from lonesome. You need to get over it and make it your mission in life to grow in yiddishkeit.

    It doesn’t matter that you are all alone. It doesn’t matter what your environment is, or if you are liked, or if you can’t fit in as a frum Jew.

    All that matters is that God has given you a mission in life…and that IS your life…as I hope you will soon figure out.

    Regards, Eliahu

  21. Shalom Michal,

    Men and women are different. Men are more forward and more easily understand if a woman shies away from his advances. Ergo, not shaking a man’s hand would probably be taken well in most cases. I do like your approach.

    With a women it’s touchier, if you don’t mind the pun. A woman is naturally more sensitive to changes in her surroundings. Without a support mechanism she feels more vulnerable and is generally more insecure.

    When the woman reaches out her hand to a man, the dynamic is different, and one has to be more careful about the potential hurt and embarrassment.

    At least that is my assessment.

    Regards, Eliahu

  22. Shalom Tevya!

    This is Eliahu’s wife responding until he gets a chance to answer your question.

    You’re most certainly invited to come to Shabbos at our place!

    We’re in Toronto, which has a large Jewish community of all stripes. Chabad to the north, Yeshivish to the south, Agudas Ysroel and Bobov to the centre. We’re somewhere in between at an Orthodox shul that has a mixed bag congregation of rigorously observant / Yeshivish to a more liberal variety, but not quite Modern O.

    There are also thriving Sephardic and Yeminite communities, and to the north of us, is a substantive Aish HaTorah community. The Aish community I would say is a very good idea for you to explore, as they welcome young people looking to become more observant, and certainly will help them in their learning.

    My favourite “kiruv” shul in Toronto is Ohr Somayach, which is right in the heart of our “yeshivah” community, and even though I’m not Beis Yaakov, I’ve always felt extremely comfortable on my visits there. :-)

    We also have a rapidly growing Russian baalei teshuvah community and lots of ex-pat Israelis.

    Toronto is definitely a hotbed of Torah Judaism (and growing!), but not a one-size fits all community.

    I would say once you find a community you’re comfortable in, become more integrated and start to grow in your learning, then you should start the “shidduch process.” You need to settle a bit first and get a clearer picture of where you want and need to be.

    Just some of my thoughts.

    I’ll let Eliahu know you posted to him.


  23. Robin,

    Hi there. I live in Staten Island, NY. I am also like you in the sense that I do not live in a frum area and it is very difficult. I myself am not shomer shabbos because I won’t keep it myself. It is very lonesome. I understand how you feel. Lots of luck.


    Where do you live?

    P.S. I am possibly thinking of moving out of NYC this year for work and the unfriendliness of the NYC/NJ frum kehilla. Can anyone recommend a frum community that is accepting of non-frum Jews and will help them grow and has Shabbos hospitality? Also, I will be 30 years old next month. I need an area where I can meet others my age as well. Thanks

  24. Great post!

    The part about shaking a woman’s hand: when I am confronted with shaking a man’s hand I usually explain to the man(with a smile): “I am an Orthodox Jew and I cannot shake a man’s hand unless it’s my husbands or father/brother. However, I can wave.” That usually brings a smile to his face. This usually works well with me.

    A true story: A woman and her husband had a meeting with the Lubavitcher rebbe. They were not observant yet. When they were about to leave the woman stretched out her hand. The Lubavitcher rebbe said: “My mother taught me never to touch anything that is not mine”. That comment put a smile to the woman’s face.

  25. What a great story Mordechai!

    I laughed when you mentioned that you’d never met a “real, live Rabbi.” Me neither! I kept saying, “I can’t believe I actually talked to THE Rabbi! I’ve never talked to a Rabbi before!!!”

    I’m still in awe of him!


  26. Thanks for inviting me Mordechai, but I’m in New York, so I think you might be just a little bit out of walking distance!

  27. Robins, you’re invited! We eat together nearly every Shabbat. Often, we can put you up. ‘Course, I don’t know where you are, and we’re probably a little far away! :-)

    I remember first walking to shul as a teenager. It was about 2-3 miles each way, though it seemed much further. It was kind of hard and lonely without a hevra waiting for me. I don’t recall getting many invitations back then. It came close to discouraging. Maybe I just don’t remember…?

    LeahL, re: your humble rav, I have to share my ‘humble rav’ story. As a teenager about 16 or so, I decided to get on Amtrak one Sunday in Stamford, CT (my hometown) and go to Boston. I’d seen an ad that the Bostener Rebbe was accepting people into a HS class. I wanted to finish HS in a place of Torah. I’d never met a real, live Rebbe. The only images in my mind were of the characters in some stories I’d read, and maybe the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who I’d heard of at mitzvah tanks and the like (this was the mid 70s).

    Anyway, I arrive in Boston, someone directs me onto the trolley to Brookline, and I find the New England Chassidic Center (I think that was the name). I go in and downstairs is empty. I find some stairs and go up, and knock on a door. A kindly older gentleman (to my teenage perception)with a beard answers my knock, and asks how he can help me. I figured, based on the stories I’d read, this is the rebbe’s shamash/assistant. So I explain what I came for. The gentleman invites me in, feeds me (tuna fish as I recall), talks with me…and only somewhere way into the meeting does it become clear this is the Bostener! To this day one of the kindest, humblest people I’ve ever met. :-)

    (No, I didn’t go to school there in the end. When I returned home, my parents and grandparents said ‘over my dead body’ or something like that. So I finished school, and made aliyah to pursue Torah in Israel.)

  28. LOL. Just a few weeks ago, the cap fell off the onion powder into my tuna patti receipe. Try as you might to rescue food from these disasters, you really can’t.

    The man who actually ate was a tzadik gamur, I’m sure.

  29. Shalom Robin,

    Oy, I can so relate. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing the first time I finally got myself to go to shul on a Shabbos. It felt like I was walking the plank.

    That first week was so scary. I went in, and was just lost! When the service was over, I took off out of there like a rocket!

    Well, some online friends from thousands of miles away said I should phone the shul during the week, explain who I was and say I needed “hospitality.”

    You mean, I should invite myself over to people’s houses? HUH????

    I did phone and this quiet polite man answered. I explained who I was and he asked a few more questions, then said I should just go back the following Shabbos and someone would meet me. Okay. Still pretty sketchy.

    Someone did meet me, became my Torah “adoptee” mother and mentor, and the rest is history.

    As an aside, I wondered who that nice “front office” man was who answered the phone. I figured he was an office assistant or something, and if he was representative of the shul, I couldn’t go wrong.

    So I asked him who he was. The answer, “Rabbi *******.” Turns out, he was our illustrious, wonderful and most humble Rav.

    If you can move closer to a community, it would be enormously helpful. But I would try calling the shul ahead of time, and I’m positive they will give you ideas and connect you with people. Most people are more than happy to help. And once you’re in, word gets around FAST via the grapevine.

    I hardly had an alone Shabbos for years after that first week. :-)

    Oh, I just wanted to comment on one more thing. It isn’t less of an authentic Shabbos if you are alone. I just think sharing it with other people enhances the beauty of it. :-)


  30. Shalom Steve,

    Community preparations for any and all visitors, along with announcements during services is a big step in the right direction.

    To go along with that, and I think better, is that guests, both regular guests and first timers, are always greeted by someone and asked if they are set up for a Shabbos meal.

    Kol tuv, Eliahu

  31. Shalom Robins,

    I understand your plight. I lived outside the community for the first year, about 1984, and that was not the way to go.

    I simply did not yet understand how very important it is to live amongst the rest of the community members, to see them and involve myself with them on a ongoing basis.

    When the Conservative Movement “VOTED” to allow driving on Shabbos so long as it was only to shul, not only were they voting to allow violations of melachos Shabbos, but they were pronouncing that a living amongst other observant Jews need no longer be a consideration in Jewish life.

    It’s no wonder to me conservatives now drive anywhere and everywhere on Shabbos, and that they are going the way of the reform in losing their children to intermarriage and assimilation.

    Regards, Eliahu

  32. Thanks for the post! It really brings out the sensitivity we must strive for when having people who are very new to the Shabbos experience at our houses. What we consider completely normal, others will see as unusual and perhaps intimidating.

    robins: Don’t give up! You may have to have a little chutzpah and ask people if they could put you up for Shabbos sometime. It is a little nervewracking but it almost always ends on a positive note!

  33. Many years ago, when I lived on the Upper West Side and davened at Lincoln Square, there was always an announcement made at the end of Kabalas Shabbos that anyone without a place to eat should see a certain member of the shul after the end of davening. Such an announcement impressed me as to the open arms nature of the shul. IMO, many of our so called mainstream shuls could emulate that announcement very easily.

  34. great post! i’m always impressed by people and communities that go out of their way to make sure that everyone has a place to eat shabbos meals.

    i just think it’s important to point out that according to the halakhic traditions of some communities, zemirot don’t count as qol isha, and hand-shaking doesn’t count as negi‘a.

  35. A fine line do we walk in the adventures!

    As for the fan incident, one could have said, “We’re not allowed to turn electrical appliances on & off on Shabbos, but I can switch seats with you if that’s ok”. I’m sure that incident made everyone uncomfortable, as I would have been.


  36. Great piece! I am a newbie, as you put it. I don’t live in an orthodox neighborhood, and I guess out of sight, out of mind, as people rarely think to invite me for Shabbos. I do my best keeping it alone, but it’s probably not as authentic that way. Anyways, I just wish I knew of people like you nearby so I could keep Shabbos more in the way that I imagine it was intended to be celebrated.

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