Thank you for an excellent column each week.
I recently heard that more and more parents of chassanim and kallos have been pushing for them to skip the Shabbos together at each other’s houses during the engagement. They say that spending Shabbos together at each other’s homes causes unneeded stress.
In your opinion, are there any benefits to having a Shabbos together at both sides’ houses, or is there really no need for it? Are there instances when it has been beneficial because they were able to learn more about each other’s families? Can this be done by simply having supper together and not hosting an entire weekend?
Thank you for your insight.
First things first, it is always an inspiration to hear that this column finds favor in the eyes of a reader, and your kind, complimentary words are both truly appreciated and sincerely gratifying.
With respect to addressing the quandary at hand, as I am wholly unfamiliar with this novel concern, the only frame of reference which I can turn to is my own experience as a choson, some years ago. Personally, I found those Shabbosim to be invaluable, and they undoubtedly aided in developing the bedrock of my rapport with my in-laws. The time spent together was impactful – even if somewhat stilted at the outset – and ensured that I was well on the way to being comfortable with my wife’s family – a benchmark I would consider of notable value to reach, on some level, prior to marriage. We all got to know each other on a level beyond the superficial, and together formed a strong foundation on which to build our relationship.
Nonetheless, during that period, while I did join in many meals at my future in-laws’, as did my wife at my parents’ house, I cannot recall either of us having spent an entire Shabbos at the home of the other. That was what worked best for everyone in our scenario.
Granted, we hailed from the same city, and thus could be at our own home for the other seudos, but I would imagine that one traveling out of town could be provided with a suitable place to eat the other meals. Of course, such a decision carries the distinct potential of affronting one’s in-laws – which patently ought to be avoided as much as possible – and that reality must be duly considered, especially when traveling out of town. However, it still remains a viable option to rely upon when needed and when feasible. Furthermore, while there were instances when we did have one seudah at each of our respective houses on the same Shabbos, it did offer a pleasant change of scenery hopping from one residence to the next, effectively precluding sensations of being overwhelmed by having to brave all three repasts at a new home with a new family.
To be clear, this is no animadversion against spending a complete Shabbos with the family of one’s affianced. Indeed, a full Shabbos together with one’s future mother- and father-in-law can be uniquely delightful, and may meaningfully engender the ahava v’achva that is so crucial to cultivate between a bride and groom, and their families. On the contrary, the above is merely meant to illustrate that there are other options available which may commensurately achieve the desired objective, and which may be more fitting in certain circumstances.
That said, and while there are surely exceptions for one reason or another, I would be very hesitant to suggest the curtailing of sharing meals together during engagement in entirety. Rather, my recommendation would be for each couple, and both sets of in-laws, to be honest with one another, and understanding of each other, and to correspondingly delineate to what degree they each feel reasonably and relatively natural in each other’s presence. For some, this may mean a nice amount of meals at each home; for others, it could be any number of meals at one home, but less at the other; and for yet others, it may result in a minimal measure of meals at either location. And as much as keeping everything perfectly even is optimal, that is not always an attainable standard. Whatever the case may be, provided all parties are included in the decision, and everyone’s needs are given proper attention, an apt conclusion should be within grasp.
The aforementioned notwithstanding, there is one critical qualification which requires consideration. And that is the propensity to use normative disquiet as an excuse to abjure one’s responsibilities of mentchlechkeit. It is one thing for someone to require a slow but steady acclimation phase, but it is another thing entirely to misuse apprehension as a justification to flatly avoid the company of one’s in-laws. As such, for one who finds it challenging to take that step, efforts should be undertaken to gently make progress in the right direction, even if it means being a little more restless than one would prefer to be, as the process of getting to know a new family commences.
Regarding replacing Shabbos with a weekday spread, while doing so would certainly be enjoyable, and could be made quite special – and perhaps there are situations where that is the best option – I firmly believe that a great deal is gained by experiencing Shabbos together. There are no electronic distractions, no school assignments nagging at younger siblings, work has been set aside, and the kedusha and warmth of Shabbos permeate in a way that is inherently irreplaceable on any other day or night. Simply stated, it is Shabbos.
All told, it is my opinion that the goal here is to begin establishing a relationship with one’s future in-laws at a pace that feels right, and that Shabbos is an ideal time to do so. Such is a determination that each couple must genuinely make based on their own individual capacities – whilst also taking into account the feelings of their parents – and every choson and kallah must recognize that although one of them may have no reluctance towards devoting ample time in their in-law’s abode, that does not mean their betrothed is equally at ease doing the same. Each person in their own time, and at their own tempo.
May the Shavas Vayinafash biyom hasheveei grant overflowing menuchas hanefesh and menuchas haguf to the myriad mishpachos of Am Yisroel.