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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
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Parshas Bechukosai #1

Satisfied

And you will eat your bread and be satisfied” (Vayikra 26:5).

Parshas Bechukosai lists the many blessings promised to the Jewish people if they are faithful to Torah. One blessing is, “And you will eat your bread and be satisfied.” Rashi explains that this is not simply a continuation of the blessing for abundant crops which precedes it. Rather, it is an additional blessing on its own – even a small amount of food will be satiating and satisfying (see Sifsei Chachamim).

These blessingsaddress two types of people: one needs a great deal to be satisfied, and the other is satisfied with whatever he has. The former may never be happy, no matter how much he has, while the latter is a lucky man. “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot” (Avos 4:1).

How Much?

Rabbi Yissocher Frand relates an insightfrom Rav Avraham Yaakov HaKohen Pam, zt”l, rosh yeshivah of Torah Vodaas, which highlights the difference between the two. Rav Pam would tell his students that while some young men look for a “rich shidduch,” there is more than one way to understand the term.

A potential father-in-law may be very wealthy, and the young man is certain that if he marries this man’s daughter, he is set for life. Rav Pam pointed out that this is not necessarily true. A girl who was raised in a wealthy home is accustomed to a high standard of living, and may expect her husband to continue to provide it. The father-in-lawmight be well off, but the young husband will be under great financial pressure.

Another girl may come from a home where there was less money, and less materialism. Her expectations are simpler, and she will be happy with modest standards. She is also a “rich shidduch,” because her husband will not be pressed for the money to support a lavish lifestyle.

Wealth can be a relative term, very much dependent on attitude. Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, the legendary “Steipler Gaon,” considered himself wealthy, even though most of us would hardly agree.

Traditionally, being honored to serve as the sandek who holds the baby during his bris milah is considered a segulah (auspicious omen) for wealth. The Steipler was sought after as a sandek almost daily, but he certainly never became wealthy; if anything, he lived an extremely simple, austere life. Someone once asked him why the segulah did not seem to be working for him, especially after he had been a sandek so many times. The Steipler found the question surprising. “But I am wealthy,” he said. “I have everything I need!” His “riches” included little more than a roof over his head and a gemara to learn from, but as he saw it, what more could he have wanted?

Not everyone is capable of living like the Steipler, but we can all learn a valuable lesson from his outlook on life. “Hashem’s blessing brings wealth” (Mishle 10:22). If we are happy with whatever Hashem has granted us, we are truly wealthy and truly blessed.

Rav Shlomo Sobel (1901-1969) was the son-in-law of the famed Jerusalem Maggid Rav Ben Tzion Yadler, and the author of a number of works of Torah. He lived with his wife and six children in a one-room apartment, which included the kitchen. One day Rav Sobel found a discarded wooden cabinet in the street. With a little assistance, he brought it home and fit it into a corner of the family’s small living space. He maneuvered a chair, shtender, lamp, and gemara into the cabinet, and sat down to learn, delighted with the comfort and privacy of his new study! (V’haarev Na, Vayikra, pp. 295-296)

Question for Discussion:

How can we learn to be satisfied with our lot?

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Response:

Bernardo, originally from Mexico and San Diego, moved to Jerusalem in 2004.While living in San Diego, he had a serious heart attack at the age of forty-nine which kept him hospitalized for a month. In the years which followed, he suffered from a number of complications. By the time he reached his mid-sixties, his condition had greatly deteriorated. He spent over a month in Shaare Zedek Hospital, much of it in the cardiac ICU, with kidney failure related to his weakened heart, an infection, and other health issues. Once he regained his strength, he would need a heart transplant.

I visited him in the hospital on the morning of Shabbos Parshas Bechukosai. He was hooked up to a cluster of machines, and receiving three types of medication by IV drip. The night had been difficult, and Bernardo admitted that he was having a tough time. This was not a complaint – Bernardo never complained. He was simply stating a fact. He had been transferred from the ICU to a ward, where the crowded room and overworked staff obviously could not compare to the conditions and care in the ICU – and he was feeling the difference.

Then he said something that I will never forget: “But it’s really all relative. When I think about what it must have been like in the ghettos, I really have it much better.” He then made kiddush, washed, and slowly ate his Shabbos meal, his spirits considerably lifted.

Bernardo’s statement, so simply put, taught me a profound lesson in learning how to be satisfied and appreciative of our lot in life. If we set our sights on those who have more and better, we will be envious and unhappy. Comparing ourselves to those who have nicer homes, higher-paying jobs, or “better” children will make our own lives seem rather bleak. If we choose instead to focus on those who have less, our point of view will change dramatically – we will realize that we are not that badly off at all.

Bernardo, incapable of walking across the room unaided or even of washing his own hands, was able to take this perspective – these were not just words. He knew that things could always be worse, and this thought kept him going.

Parshas Bechukosai #2

“In the Land of Their Enemies…”

“And if you do not listen to Me, and do not do all these commandments” (Vayikra 26:14).

After relating the many blessings in store for the Jewish people if they obey the Torah, the parashah goes on to list the terrible curses that will befall them if they abandon it. This section of the parashah, known as the Tochachah, is all the more chilling because our people have seen many of these curses fulfilled.

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky writes, “The Torah details calamity with Divine accuracy,” predicting that enemies from foreign lands would exile the Jews from their homeland and disperse them throughout the world. The destruction of the two Batei Mikdash, the Inquisition, Crusades, Chmielnicki massacres, Holocaust and more are all there, in frightening detail. As a nation, we have endured many tragedies, and survived.

It is beyond us to attempt to explain why generations of righteous Jews suffered so terribly, but we can find consolation in the pessukim which follow the words of the Tochachah: “And even with all this, when they will be in the lands of their enemies, I will not despise them and I will not detest them to eradicate them, to abrogate My covenant with them… and I will remember for them My covenant with the ancients” (Vayikra 26:44-45). Just as the Tochachah was fulfilled, Hashem’s promise never to forsake us will also be fulfilled.

Invaluable

Rabbi Kamenetsky points out that the parashah, and with it, the Book of Vayikra, does not end on this optimistic, uplifting note. Bechukosai concludes with the laws of erchin, an evaluation of the monetary worth of men and women of different ages, and of animals and property. If someone wished to donate his own value or the value of his possessions to the Beis HaMikdash, the Torah provides the relevant figures in silver shekels. What connection do these halachos have to the Tochachah?

The Kotzker Rebbe explains why the laws of erchin are an appropriate conclusion for the horrors of the Tochachah. In our thousands of years of exile, we have been persecuted, humiliated and degraded; in the eyes of our oppressors, a Jew’s life and dignity were utterly worthless. The Torah teaches us that this is not so. No matter what happens to us and how we are treated, a Jew will always retain his innate value – he is precious and cherished by Hashem.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, Rav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam (1905-1994), lost his wife and eleven children, and his chassidim, talmidim, and community in the Holocaust. He went through the worst horrors of the concentration camps, including a terrible death march. In those darkest of times, his faith in Hashem was always strong, and he made superhuman efforts to observe Shabbos, kashrus and other mitzvos, even in Auschwitz.

Once he was beaten brutally by the Nazis, and then asked a cruel question: “Rabbi, do you still believe now that you are the chosen people?” The Rebbe anwered, “Yes – because we are not the ones who are beating others.” Despite their power over their victims, the Nazis could not rob any Jew of his inherent worth.

Question for Discussion:

The value of every individual Jew should be never be underestimated. Who is someone who makes an important contribution, yet is not sufficiently appreciated?

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