Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90
Children prepare the dinner table for the Sabbath in Beitar Illit settlement.

Over the years as our family has grown, b”H, and we have outgrown our dining room table.

The table we had for the last decade and a half, was a gift to us from the family of Mr. Leo Joseph, a”h. Mr. Joseph was our neighbor for five years. Even though he survived the horrors of the Holocaust and was already a widower by the time we knew him, he was always pleasant with a smile on his face. When he passed away, his family graciously gave us his dining room table. But the time came for us to find a new table that could accommodate our family and guests.

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After a long search, we found a new, larger table that worked for us.

I was thinking about the importance of our dining room table and how much happens in its presence.

Rabbi Pinchos Idstein related that years ago, his accountant informed him that he could use his Shabbos table expenses as a write-off for his taxes. Being that he was a rebbe in the local yeshiva in an outreach-oriented community, his guests could legitimately be considered recruitment for the school. His accountant suggested that he save his grocery receipts, figure out a percentage and claim it as a deduction.

Sometime later Rabbi Idstein was informed that he was being audited by the IRS. During the meeting, as the IRS representative was reviewing his file, she asked him about his business expenses. Rabbi Idstein explained to her that Orthodox Jews have two Thanksgiving-like dinners every weekend. The family sits together, singing songs, thanking G-d and discussing ethical matters. They invited guests regularly to enhance the experience. He added that kosher chicken costs a whole lot more than Frank Perdue.

Rabbi Idstein recounted that the woman stared at him for a moment in silence and then quipped that she could hardly get her family to sit together on Thanksgiving itself. She couldn’t believe that his family did it twice every week.

In the end, the IRS owed the Idstein’s money. So aside from some majorly frazzled nerves beforehand, all’s well that ends well.

Dr. Yitzy Schechter, a noted psychologist and former supervisor, notes that when he does an intake with new Jewish clients, he often asks him/her to describe what the family Shabbos table looks like. There is a lot one can learn about family dynamics from the weekly patterns that occur at the Shabbos table.

So much of the values we wish to impart to our children are conveyed at the Shabbos table. There are conversations about Torah values, outlook on current events, seeing the hand of Hashem in our lives, speaking about the parsha, singing zemiros, and discussing what’s happening in one another’s lives. Of course, in most homes there are also the ubiquitous quibbles and squabbles about who sits where, and whose turn it is to speak/sing, and which child should be helping serve and clear. (Don’t pretend this doesn’t happen in your home if you have children…)

Many of my fondest memories and most wonderful times are from around the Shabbos table.

On one occasion when I had to get a shot several years ago, I wanted to divert my attention from the needle. In my mind, I pictured myself at my Shabbos table singing Yom zeh mechubad. That was the tranquil and peaceful moment I focused on to calm myself. That event also reminded me that, in retrospect, our greatest memories often aren’t from amazing trips and vacations, but the seemingly mundane and even trite pleasant events that we don’t think much about at the time.

I enjoy it when our Shabbos table is set on Thursday night. The mere sight of the majestically set table generates an anticipatory excitement for Shabbos.

Rav Matisyahu Salomon notes that the Shabbos table should never become an extension of their child’s classroom. It is vital that parents do their utmost to make sure each of their children feels heard and validated at the Shabbos table. With more than one child that’s no easy feat. But that’s why parents get paid the big bucks. If a child has a hard time in class, he shouldn’t be asked parsha questions at the table where he will be embarrassed in front of his family. Parents also need to decide how long they should insist their children remain at the Shabbos table without it becoming overbearing. Overall, Shabbos meals must be a pleasant and uplifting experience for everyone.

A few years ago, a friend sent me recorded lectures from Rabbi Yisroel Belsky in which he spoke about having a positive home. One of the points Rabbi Belsky emphasized was the importance of laughter in the home. Families should have occasions to laugh together.

At times I would tell stories at my Shabbos table from my youth which had my children laughing heartily. (I would be careful that there shouldn’t be loshon hora involved.) On those occasions, I would feel a little guilty that perhaps it wasn’t in the spirit of the Shabbos table. But when I heard those words from Rabbi Belsky I rethought the matter. Laughing together at a Shabbos table helps bring the family together and hopefully allows the beautiful kedusha components of the seudah to penetrate more and be more memorable.

Although we had outgrown our old table it was somewhat sad to bid it farewell. Aside from the memory of our dear neighbor Mr. Joseph, there were so many wonderful moments and great memories shared at that table. There were sheva berachos, family get-togethers, Pesach sedarim, and many other wonderful occasions, not to mention hours of Torah learning and homework done over that table. But we anticipate many more beautiful memories that will be created around our new table as well.

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Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author as well as a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ. He has recently begun seeing clients in private practice as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments and speaking engagements, contact 914-295-0115 or stamtorah@gmail.com. Archives of his writings can be found at www.stamtorah.info.