My husband and I like to share Sabbath dinner with other people. We both work, so we end up shopping on Wednesday, staying up late Thursday, and rushing frantically on Friday. Where we lived before, we had a nice group that rotated hosting duties. Now, our guests seem to enjoy themselves, but rarely if ever reciprocate. My husband wants to stop inviting them. My daughter says invite them if we enjoy their company, but expect nothing in return. I am caught in the middle.
It sounds lovely, the rotating arrangement you used to have! You wouldn’t have had to worry about anything at all on most Friday nights except for traffic and picking out a nice bottle of wine. And when it was your turn, you had the time to plan ahead and could showcase your favorite kitchen creations. No wonder your Shabbat feels more stressed than blessed nowadays.
But it’s not the fault of your new friends. Yes, friends and neighbors should reciprocate kindness, but not necessarily in kind — a dinner invitation might be “repaid” with a ride to the airport, concert tickets, or the use of your neighbors’ snow blower. (The extent of your observance isn’t their problem, either, nor would it be for any guest invited to a dinner or another event at someone’s home. I admire your dedication to the law, but that same tradition holds that your commitment should weigh more heavily on you than on other people.)
You have an implicit vision of the kind of Sabbaths you want to observe — why not find or put together a group of people who share that vision? You already know how a rotating-dinner group ought to work and what logistical pitfalls to avoid, so you’d be an excellent organizer.
Maybe take a meta-Sabbath for a while and celebrate very simple Friday nights with your family, and then look into creating the kind of community you want.Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.