"People invite me over for Friday night and Shabbos lunch, which is very nice of them," she said, "but I don't really enjoy that. I don't like being out at night. I really like being home, reading, being with my own thoughts."
She paused then, her eyes growing wide with the horror of that which she admitted.
"Please don't tell anyone what I said," she hurriedly amended.
"But I understand perfectly," I swiftly commiserated.
I can guess where her worried disclaimer came from.
"You don't like going out on Friday night? Whoever heard of such a thing? All alone in your house? No, no, you must come over. It's not right that you should be by yourself on Friday night, no seudah, how depressing! Sarah, help me convince Rivkah here that she must come to me on Friday night. I insist."
Let's break this down:
Item 1: A widow.
A woman recently buried her husband. Which should lead, on our part, to:
Item 2: Compassion.
What is compassion? It certainly isn't brow-beating the recently bereaved what they are "required" to do.
This woman always liked her own company. As an introvert, I can perfectly understand. While I do go out, if invited, I always have to struggled over internal grumblings. "Ugh, it's dark out. It's unnatural for me to be dressed up in itchy wool at this hour. I should be in flannel jammies. Now I'll come home late, stuffed to the gills with bad food, sleep terribly, and be zonked tomorrow." Sometimes the dinner was worth it; other times, I wished I stayed home.
When another is in difficulty, we can make the mistake of projecting our own needs and wants onto others. But here is where the listening skills differ. We should ask, "How can I help?" and actually hear the answer.
My father sat shiva a few years ago for his mother. He couldn't go to sleep; people kept showing up late into the night (after an exhausting day of "entertaining"), insisting they were here to be menacheim aveil. The aveil is trying to rest. They came when it was convenient for them, then complained in aggrieved tones how they were being prevented from comforting the bereaved.
If we want to do things for others, it means nothing if we make it about ourselves. It sure does feel good when we do chessed. But that satisfaction has to come after a job well done, first.