Fretting Over Family

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Dear Rivkie,

 I have a dilemma. I come from a family that ranges from Reform to yeshivish. My immediate family is Modern Orthodox, and we want to invite family members to Yom Tov meals, but we know that if we invite them, they will drive to us on the holiday. We want to share the beauty of these holidays with our whole family, but how can we knowingly cause them to drive on the holiday when we would never do so?

 

Also, I want to be sensitive to my relatives’ level of comfort with what goes on during a Yom Tov meal. Do I give them an instruction booklet? Do I just ignore it when they take out their smartphones? Please advise.

 Thanks,

Anxious Ariella

 

Dear Ariella,

This is a much more common problem than you may think, my dear, and a tricky one at that. (As always, I am going to add my disclaimer that I am not a halachic authority; consult your rabbi for an actual halachic ruling on any specific questions.)

Kids can get older and become more stringent about following Jewish law, elderly parents get older and can’t walk on Yom Tov, we get more sentimental about including far-flung family members.

It can all become very complicated. Don’t let it be.

Here’s the thing: you cannot control what other people do. So, for example, say you might want to invite non-observant family to come for Sukkot dinner but they will for sure be driving. Don’t panic. One rabbi suggested saying, “We are having Sukkot dinner at 8 p.m. Wednesday.” Bam! Not an invite, just information shared with someone close. They can extrapolate and let you know if they are in.

Now, that wouldn’t work for my family. Some relatives would say “that’s nice” and change the subject, while others might get offended that we did not extend a direct invitation. Another approach is to invite your family members to join you for the entire Yom Tov and offer them a place to stay, thereby eliminating the need for them to drive on the holiday. If they choose to join for just one meal, that is their decision, not something you initiated.

Personally, I find that Sukkot is the nicest time to invite non-observant friends and family. The sukkah is beautiful — the kids are so excited and eager to show it off — and it’s semi-casual because we use paper plates (at least I do). Most importantly, if you invite your family during chol hamoed (the intermediate days), driving and other Yom Tov restrictions are not an issue.  Also, it’s an experience that many people don’t get to have, so it is a great opportunity to share the holiday with people who may not otherwise experience it.

Moving on to the “instruction booklet”: that gets a hard no. I will say that when things are framed in a positive way, it’s easier to convey expectations. Instead of little Moshe blurting out, “Hey, cousin Josh, put that phone away, it’s muktzeh (literally “set aside,” referring to items not used on Shabbat or Yom Tov),” the head of the household can say something like, “So happy everyone is here. It’s our custom to enjoy holiday meals without electronics. We so want to catch up with everyone and be able to share a nice time together!”

For some family members, it might be better to discuss that you don’t use electronics on Yom Tov (and maybe explain why) in advance. It really depends on the person as to which approach is best.

Overall, the important thing is to focus on what we are trying to achieve this holiday season. One is heightened spirituality; two is repairing broken or strained relationships (perhaps by inviting relatives we may not otherwise see to our sukkahs); and three is immersing ourselves in the beauty of Yom Tov (followed immediately by Shabbat this year, three times, lucky us). When we reflect these values to our children and, by osmosis, to our guests, we are making a real kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name), which is what we are always trying to achieve.

Enjoy Yom Tov and bring people close. It’s not about perfection, it’s about sharing something special with your guests.

 

All the best,

Rivkie