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Opening Our Homes: What's In It For Our Kids

Opening Our Homes: What's In It For Our Kids

A home is your castle, but is also a tool for teaching your children sharing, hospitality, and caring about others.


Some friends of ours bought a beautiful home a few years ago in the San Fernando Valley in California. The house was so lovely that there were a dozen or so bids on it even before a sign was out. My friend told me that after they placed the bid she went home and said a little prayer:

"God, we really want this house. We want this house not just for our own use, but also to have a comfortable place to welcome guests, to host classes and to share Shabbat with anyone who would like to experience it with us. If any of these other people can use this house for more good than we can, then give it them. Otherwise, please give it to us."

Our friends got the house, and I don't think it's mere coincidence.

Now, think about the message this prayer sent to her children: "We want a house because we'll be able to do more good with it than we presently can with what we have."


Our homes are our castles.

But what types of castles are they? What are we teaching our children through the way we use them? Are we busy decorating them in such a fashion that we are hesitant to actually use them for fear of wear and tear? Are our homes only for ourselves and our own comfort, or are we using them as a training ground for important lessons we want to teach our children?

Home is a place where we want to be able to retreat from the hassles and stresses of everyday life and refresh ourselves.

Home is a place where we want to be able to retreat from the hassles and stresses of everyday life and refresh ourselves. We all need a place to shut ourselves off from the world and recharge our batteries. But a home also has another purpose.

Each home is a building block of the community. Home is a place where we can share our bounty and ourselves with those in need. Home is place where much good can be done.


Last year I asked a family if they could host some guests coming from out of town for a friend's Bar Mitzvah. They have a beautiful home with 4 nice-size bedrooms and three children. Each child has his or her own room. The mother declined, saying she is sorry, but she has no guest room. I don't think it ever occurred to her that perhaps her children could double up for a few nights.

I know a family whose kids share rooms so they can host strangers coming into town for medical treatment.

I know another family in Los Angeles with a guest room which is constantly in use. Their kids share rooms because it is important for them to have a guest room. They use this room to host people who come to Los Angeles for medical treatment and often have to be here with family members for extended stays. These people are usually total strangers.

How does this family's kids feel about their home being used for such a purpose? Do they feel that their home is it constantly being invaded by strangers who infringe upon their space and privacy?

Not at all. To these children, it is perfectly normal. Their parents take pleasure in the fact that they can offer a small measure of comfort to people going through a very difficult time.


How can we use our homes to teach our children some vital lessons?

  1. Our homes can be used to teach our children about communal responsibility.

Do you want your kids to be activists or couch potatoes? Host a fundraiser for your school, synagogue or other worthy cause. If you are involved in an organization, volunteer your home for meetings so your children can see what it means to get involved and take responsibility. Have them help you with preparations, putting out refreshments, setting up chairs or copying materials needed for the meeting. They can't always see what you do outside of home, so bring some of your activities to them.

  1. Our homes can be used to teach our children about hospitality.

How do we greet a guest to make him feel most welcome? One person I know has her children make up a little basket of goodies like they have in a hotel to put in the guest's room with some fruits, nuts candies and juice boxes. Expect and encourage your children to double up if you have guests coming and give them plenty of praise for helping to make others comfortable in your home.

  1. Our homes can be used to teach our children about caring for others.

Invite somebody over who could use some good old TLC, such as an elderly neighbor, recently-divorced friend, or someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. Think of ways you and your family can provide a few hours pleasure for this person.

  1. Our homes can be used to expose our children to valuable extra-curricular learning.

Our tradition tells us that we should make our homes a meeting place for the Sages. [See Ethics of our Fathers.] We want to expose ourselves and our children to those who have wisdom. Look for opportunities to host local speakers or guest lecturers from out of town. Put together a lecture series at your home. Think of who you would like to have teaching in your home that you would like your children to be exposed to.

There are so many things a home can be used for. The more we understand what it is we want to teach our children, the more we can use our homes well.

April 8, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) shua scharf, December 29, 2008 9:38 PM

it was a great story and it helped me with my Torah Fair project on having guests.

(8) , January 9, 2001 12:00 AM

there is a middle road

I grew up in a home where there was always company - at least five people every meal and usally more. I must say that when I look back, while I learned alot about communal involvement and chesed and I did enjoy the diversity of people, I started resenting it when the amount of guests at the table meant that we as kids sat further back, and got much less attention. I also resented the guests who felt that they had to "parent" me and give constructive criticism about our home and practices. I gladly slept on the floor many times, and did learn the art of giving, but I can't always say that I loved the fact that sometimes months would go by without me sleeping in my own room on Shabbos.
So, as a parent I have instituted some guidelines after discussing the issues with my husband and our Rabbi:
1 - We limit the guest to no more than 2 or 3 people so that the table conversation, cooking, cleanup and my children's needs are manageable. 2- We will only reinvite a guest that is nice to my children and shows interest in their dvar torahs, zemiros etc.. 3- My children will always sit up front as they ARE priority.
That said, I also bought my son a Winnie the Pooh sleeping bag so that when he does give up his bed for a guest, he does it with glee. There are ways to encourage chesed w/o causing resentment. When done right, then Hachnosas Orchim can be a joy to all!

(7) , May 18, 2000 12:00 AM

In moderation, as always

I agree with that there are two values here that may come into conflict; hospitality vs. 'Shlom Bayit' (peace in the home).

I grew up with guests a continual presence at our table, and sometimes in our rooms. I have continued this tradition, and in the seven years of my marriage can count on the fingers of one hand the number of shabbat meals where we haven't had guests.

The other side of the coin is that subconsciously we expect our guests to give us something back; gratitude! When we don't feel the gratitude is there, a hospitality situation can turn sour very quickly, regardless of brave resolutions to do it 'for the sake of heaven'.

So, as in all things, moderation is called for.

(6) Emunah, May 1, 2000 12:00 AM


Taking care of one's family first is a given, and is not mutually exclusive of fulfilling the commandment of opening one's home to guests. If a family is not accustom to housing guests, than start off slowly. You will gradually see the fruits of your investment. We have become friends with former guests and in turn have been able to call upon them when we have needed housing arrangments and who eagerly and graciously reciporcated. We have been opening our home to guests for many years. My brother jokes as he asks "Who is the guest of the week"? We have a guest book with over 120 names inscribed. Welcoming guests is critical to my children's education on many levels. It develops social skills, awareness and tolerance as they interact with people. In addition it gives them a sense that they are active participants in serving Hashem- just like Avraham Avinu. I coordinate out-of-town housing in my community. I can assure you that I screen ALL potential guests before I have them in my home or place them in someone else's . In the four years I've been doing this, I have't had one bad experience. Having guests in one's home is very rewarding. Feel free to contact me if you are passing through town and need a meal or place to stay.

(5) Anonymous, April 18, 2000 12:00 AM

sharing IS caring

Our home is almost always in 'disarray' as all the neighborhood kids clamor to be here. WHY? We make them clean up after themselves,make them wear bike helmets(even get them their own),and set various limits their own parents are not setting. We give them snacks, refreshments,and conversations about 'virtues' such as honesty,integrity,etc. as they get older(ours are 3 and 6) we know that our kids will feel a sense of pride in our home and us as parents.

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