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As presented earlier this summer, your Table Talk is in summer L'Chaim mode.
The suggestion is this:
At some point during the Shabbat meal, pour everyone their favorite beverage for a l'chaim.
But ask them not to drink until after you finish the story. Make this a ritual every Friday night, and your family will look forward to it.
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Parshat Ki Tavo
“The Hasty Meal”
Rabbi Yisrael of Salant believed very much that "love your neighbor" is the most essential idea in the Torah.
He was famous for teaching the details of this mitzvah through example.
One of his students once invited him for Shabbat.
Knowing how careful Rabbi Yisroel was in every detail of observance, and how reluctant he was to stay anywhere as a guest, the disciple described the way he ran his household.
"We buy our meat from Shlomo the butcher. Our cook is the widow of so-and-so who observes every stringency. And the meals are conducted properly, with divrei Torah and songs. It's no wonder that the Friday night meal in my home ends at a very late hour of the night!"
He obviously felt proud of his observance.
“I accept your invitation,” Rabbi Yisrael said, “but only on the condition that you shorten the length of the Friday night meal by two hours.”
Eager to host his rabbi, the disciple quickly agreed.
That Friday night, the Shabbat meal was rushed faster than that family had ever experienced it.
The courses followed each other rapidly, without the usual lengthy break in between.
There were divrei Torah, but they were short and sweet, not long drashas.
They sang Shabbat songs, but only a few, not the entire liturgy.
It felt as though hardly any time passed between washing their hands for the meal and passing the finger-bowl after dessert.
After they said the final blessing of "Birchat HaMazone" the disciple turned to Rabbi Yisrael and said quietly, “Forgive me, Rebbe, but I must ask a question. What fault dd Rebbe find in the way I conduct my Shabbos table, that led him to shorten the meal time by two hours?”
He seemed to ignore the question. Instead he said, "Please ask your cook to come in."
When she entered, Rabbi Yisroel said to her, “Would you please forgive me for making you tired this evening, and causing the courses to be served so quickly tonight.”
To the student’s surprise the cook said, “May the Rabbi be blessed with every blessing! If only he was a guest here every Shabbos! The meal always lasts far into the night, after a day I’ve spent working very hard to prepare everything. By the time the meal is over, I can hardly lift my feet from exhaustion. But tonight, because you finished the meal early, I can go home and rest!”
Rabbi Yisrael didn't look surprised at all.
He turned to his disciple and said, “Here is the answer to your question. Indeed, the way you conduct your Shabbos table is wonderful. But when it harms another person, it becomes something not so wonderful at all!”
Listen to the sensitivity! That's what it means to be a great human being, that's what the Torah is all about. Rosh Hashana is in two weeks - may we all seek this kind of greatness.
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Question for your table... What does it take to become that sensitive to other people's feelings? Is it even possible, or do you have to be born with it?
PPS - For this year's updated edition of our "25 Questions to Think About Before Rosh Hashana", send an email.
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Excerpted and adapted with permission from Stories My Grandfather Told Me, Vol. 5, © 2001 ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications. All rights reserved. Get the book here.