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Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Bamidbar #1

Thirty Days Old

“Count the heads of the entire congregation of the children of Israel…every male… from the age of twenty” (Bamidbar 1:2-3).

“Count the sons of Levi… every male, from the age of one month” (ibid 3:15).

During the second year of the Jewish people’s sojourn in the desert, Hashem commanded Moshe to take a census of the men between the ages of twenty and sixty. A separate count was made for the Tribe of Levi, who were counted not from the age of twenty, but from the age of one month.

Why were the Leviim counted on their own, and from such a young age?

One reason for the separate count was that the Leviim were a Tribe apart. They alone did not receive agricultural land in Eretz Yisrael, were not drafted for military service, and did not share in the spoils of war. Their duties, in the Beis Hamikdash and as teachers of Torah, were entirely spiritual. This distinction was in place even at thirty days old; they were raised from the very start to develop their potential as members of “the King’s Own legion” (see Bamidbar Rabbah 1:12).

Apparently, the innate spirituality of the Leviim was strong already at birth, and even the infant Leviim were counted as part of “the guardians of sanctity” (shomrei mishmeres hakodesh).Rashi writes that the actual counting was delayed for a month, because when a child is one month old, he is no longer considered a nefel (not yet viable).

Young Leviim

The Rambam writes that in our times, this special role is not limited to the Tribe of Levi alone. Any Jew who is sincerely dedicated to Hashem and his Torah can take on this status: “[The Leviim] were set aside to worship Hashem and serve Him, and to teach His just ways and pious laws to the multitudes…. Not only the Tribe of Levi alone, but any man in the world who volunteers himself, and understands through his intelligence to separate himself and stand before G-d to serve Him and to worship Him, to know G-d and go in the straight way… he is sanctified like the Holy of Holies, and Hashem is his lot for all eternity”(Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel 13:12-13).

Leviim were born and raised to serve Hashem from their earliest days. Today, we can all be “Leviim,” striving to elevate ourselves, and teaching our children to grow in Torah and mitzvos even at a young age.

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky relates that his grandfather, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, came to visit the Yeshivah of South Shore, recently established by his son, Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky. Rav Yaakov spoke to the staff, tested the students, and stopped in at the preschool. He noticed that the mezuzah at the door of this classroom was not positioned as required by halachah – it should have been on the upper third of the doorpost, but instead, it was on the bottom third. When Rav Yaakov asked why, the teachers explained that they wanted the mezuzah to be within reach of their young students, so that they could kiss it on their way in and out of the classroom. Rav Yaakov advised them to position the mezuzah properly, on the upper third of the doorpost, and put a small stepstool for the students nearby. The mitzvah should not be lowered to the level of the children, he told them – the children should learn to reach high, elevating themselves to the level of the mitzvah.

Question for Discussion:

What was a goal you had as a child, and what motivated you to achieve it?

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Parshas Bamidbar #2

In the Desert

“Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert… in the second year after they left Egypt” (Bamidbar 1:1).

Hashem spoke to Moshe countless times, with no special mention in the pessukim about the location. There are no unnecessary words or information in the Torah. Why, in this passuk, are we told something we already know – that the Jewish people were camped in the Sinai desert at the time?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch writes that this mention of the desert teaches us an important lesson: we should learn to live as if we too were in the desert.

Why would anyone want to live in a desert?

Moving Away

Rav Sternbuch cites the Rambam, who discusses the powerful impact of peer pressure and a bad environment. He writes that it is human nature to be influenced by our friends and surroundings. It follows that we should make a point of associating with good people, whose influence will be positive, and stay away from bad people and their negative influence.

What happens if we live in a country inhabited by wicked people, where we are likely to adopt their behavior? The Rambam presents a very matter-of-fact solution: we should move to another country where the situation is better. If there is no place to go, or if moving is impossible, there is still a way to escape the pressure to conform: we should go live in the isolation of “the caves and thorns and deserts,” rather than staying among wicked people (Hilchos Deos 6:1).

Why does the Torah tell us that Hashem spoke to Moshe in the desert? To remind us to live in our own desert, by distancing ourselves from problematic social norms and bad influences (Taam V’Daas, Bamidbar 1:1).

The Jewish people had left behind the idolatry and utter moral corruption of Egypt, and would be heading for Canaan, a land that was no better. For them, the time in the desert, away from bad neighbors and a degenerate society, was an opportunity to rid themselves of any lingering Egyptian influences, and prepare to face the challenges awaiting them in Canaan.

Question for Discussion:

When did you feel that you had to distance yourself from a negative influence?

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