Read This First

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 Bo #1

This Year’s Pesach

“This day will be a memorial for you, and you will celebrate it as a holiday [dedicated to] Hashem. In [all] your generations, you will celebrate it as an eternal decree” (Shmos 12:14).

More than four hundred years of history, beginning with Hashem’s promise to Avraham Avinu, were coming to a head: Moshe instructed the Jewish people to prepare for their upcoming redemption with the Korban Pesach, sacrificed by every Jewish household on the night when the tenth and final Plague struck Egypt. This was not a one-time event. The Korban Pesach and the great day of the Exodus from Egypt would become part of Jewish life for all time, celebrated “in [all] your generations.” Ever since, Pesach has been central to the Jewish calendar and Jewish life, with the Seder and the holiday itself as highlights of the year.

Pesach celebrates our nation’s liberation from the slavery in Egypt. Thousands of years later, many people are still in the grip of slavery, although of a different kind. They too long desperately to be free.

Enslaved

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski relates the story of a recovering drug addict. He was at his family’s Seder, and his father began reading Avadim hayinu, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.”The son interrupted. “Abba,” he said, “can you truthfully say that you were a slave? Your ancestors were slaves, but you don’t know what slavery means.” He had been a slave, he said, of the very worst kind. When he was on drugs he had no freedom; he did whatever his addiction demanded, even things he had never dreamed he was capable of. There was no choice and no free will.

Rabbi Dr. Twerski explains that slavery is not always about the hold of a Pharaoh over a subject people. We can be slaves to ourselves, losing our freedom to our yetzer hara and bad habits. Addictions like substance abuse, gambling, the internet, and even overeating are terrible taskmasters with a very powerful grip. He writes that this type of slavery extends to losing control over “any aspect of one’s behavior.” If our actions and the way we view ourselves are determined by others, we are not free.

For example, we may care far too much about what others think of our clothing and appearance, the car we drive, or where we vacation. If we make our choices based on their opinions – or what we perceive to be their opinions – rather than our own, that too is a type of slavery (Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, “Emotional Slavery”).

One of the central themes of Pesach is freedom from any master other than Hashem. Slavery may be physical or emotional, external or internal. Every year on Pesach, we remember that as Jews, our goal is to become servants to Hashem alone.

Question for Discussion:

Redemption from “slavery” can take many forms. What behavior, habit or worry is “enslaving” you, and how can you regain control and break free?

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Response:

“David” from Los Angeles spoke about the very latest form of addiction, namely technology, cell phones, and social media: The manufacturers and marketers spend millions to entrap new victims of all ages, from every stratum of society. Already back in 1999-2000, in the early days of cell phones, I had not one but two cell phones plus a BlackBerry, which my wife very aptly called “the evil berry.” The BlackBerry alone was not enough, because it could not handle both email and phone calls simultaneously. I remember carrying on two separate conversations on the two phones, and sending an email on the BlackBerry, all at the same time – while driving! It was all for the sake of the business, of course, but this was insanity, and also dangerous. A friend was once emailing at a red light, and was so involved that he did not even notice when he rolled into the car in front of him. People are glued to their devices; normal human communication, including actual conversation and eye contact, is becoming a lost art. None of these are positive developments.

Seven years ago on a business trip, my BlackBerry was stolen from the overhead storage bin of an airplane. My initial reaction was, “How am I going to live without it?” With time, I saw that this was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. Without even realizing it, I had been handcuffed by my email, checking it constantly no matter where I was or who I was with. With the loss of the BlackBerry, I was set free. When I am at the computer, I check my email, but that’s it – and as I discovered, that’s really enough.

Parshas Bo #2

Shaped by Deeds

“And Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, this is the law of the Pesach sacrifice… you will not break a bone in [the sacrifice]” (Shmos 12:43, 46).

It was the Jewish people’s last night in Egypt. They were given detailed instructions about every aspect of the Korban Pesach they would sacrifice that night, including how to handle the bones of the lamb after it was consumed: “you will not break a bone in [the sacrifice].” The Sefer HaChinuch (16) explains that kings and princes do not crack and chew bones to extract every last drop of nourishment; that is the way of famished paupers. At this momentous time, as the Jewish people took on their role as Hashem’s royal chosen people, He commanded actions that would reflect their exalted status. Every year thereafter, this mitzvah would serve the Jews as a tangible reminder of who they really are.

The Sefer HaChinuch writes that we have many mitzvos to remind us of the lessons of the Exodus from Egypt, because one would not be enough. In his famous words, ha’adam nifal kefi pe’ulosav: “man is shaped by his deeds.” Ultimately, what we do is what we will become.

He goes on to say that the impact of repeated action is powerful enough to effect real change. This works both ways. If a die-hard sinner should decide to keep mitzvos, his yetzer hara will diminish and he will become better, even if his initial motives were not entirely altruistic. On the flip side, if a sincere tzaddik continually engages in spiritually damaging behavior, even if he was compelled by circumstances, he will eventually fall. As the Sefer HaChinuch writes, acharei hape’ulos nimshachim halevavos – “hearts are drawn after deeds.” This is why Hashem gave us not one or two mitzvos, but six hundred and thirteen, enough to permeate every aspect of our lives and keep us constantly attached to Torah (see Makkos 23b).

Choosing

There is a great deal of choice in our lives. Even within the framework of work, school, and other responsibilities, we can choose our friends, leisure activities, and interests. Surrounding ourselves with mitzvos protects us from sin (Menachos 43b). It is up to us to seek out an atmosphere that is conducive to mitzvos.

The results of negative actions can be frighteningly quick in coming.

Two friends went off to university together. Their starting points appeared to be similar: they both grew up in solid Orthodox homes, and had just returned from a year of yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. Residence in the co-ed campus dorms was mandatory for freshmen. Straight out of yeshivah, they were instantly thrown into a world they had never seen, at least not up close. Drinking, loose morals, and more were everywhere. One of them took an unprecedented step: he requested permission to move off campus. No one understood how it happened, but permission was granted, and he got out of the dorm as fast as he could pack. The second friend did not see the urgency… and the plunge was quick and hard. In short order, he was dating a girl who was Jewish, but not observant. He joined a fraternity, participating freely in the drinking and partying, dropped out of the minyan, and was no longer eating the kosher meals at the campus Hillel.

Question for Discussion:

What is a mitzvah which you fulfill that has an obvious positive impact?

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Responses:

After saying the nighttime Kerias Shema, I conclude every day with three short words: B’yadcha afkid ruchi, “I entrust my soul to Your Hands” (Tehillim 31:6). I say the words slowly, reminding myself of what they mean. It is only natural to assume that our night’s sleep will be followed by another day of life and good health. For me, b’yadcha afkid ruchi is a powerful reminder that there are no guarantees. Every night, I again ask Hashem to restore my soul to me the next morning, so that I can continue learning His Torah and fulfilling His mitzvos, and hopefully make a kiddush Hashem.

Mrs. Rosa Romanowsky: With every morning’s Modeh Ani, I thank Hashem for returning my soul after a night’s sleep. I know that this is not a gift to be taken lightly. Modeh Ani reminds me to be grateful to Him for trusting me to make the new day ahead meaningful and worthwhile.