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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 Chayei Sara #1

Delegating

“And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household, who controlled all he owned… I bind you with an oath by Hashem, the G-d of the Heavens and the G-d of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites… Instead, go to my land and my birthplace, and take a wife for my son Yitzchak… Beware that you do not take my son back there” (Bereishis 24:2-4, 6).

With these words, Avraham appointed Eliezer to a mission with major ramifications for countless generations to come. Yitzchak’s wife, selected by Eliezer, would be the next mother of the Jewish people.

Avraham clearly had a great deal of confidence in Eliezer, as evident from his position in Avraham’s household. In contemporary terms, we would say that Eliezer, Avraham’s personal aide, had complete control of his vast fortune, including access to his bank accounts, credit cards, online passwords, and car keys.

If Avraham had so much faith in Eliezer’s integrity in financial affairs, why was he so reserved about entrusting him to negotiate Yitzchak’s shidduch? Here, Eliezer had to swear that he would follow Avraham’s instructions, and was even issued a rather sternly worded warning. The contrast between Eliezer as the trusted steward on the one hand, and Avraham’s openly expressed suspicions when it came to this assignment on the other, is surprising. Did Avraham trust Eliezer, or not?

Priorities

The Be’er Mayim Chaim (Chayei Sarah, p. 129) explains that Avraham had complete confidence in Eliezer concerning material matters: he “controlled all [Avraham] owned.”

Spiritual matters, including the selection of Yitzchak’s future wife, were another story. Here, Avraham was unwilling to trust the judgment of his financial manager – this was too important! Eliezer was given detailed orders, and bound by oath to obey them. Avraham’s priorities were clear: money and materialism could be delegated, but spirituality, including the spiritual future of his descendants, was personally overseen. The Be’er Mayim Chaim points out that unfortunately, our own value systems tend to be reversed: we are trusting and easygoing about ruchniyus, but vigilant about gashmiyus.

An incident in the life of Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), founder of the Mussar movement, illustrates this phenomenon. On one occasion, Rav Yisrael was staying at a village inn. The Jewish innkeeper noticed his visitor’s distinguished rabbinical appearance, and saw an opportunity to save himself some time and trouble.

He asked Rav Yisrael, “Are you by any chance a shochet (ritual slaughterer)? I have an animal that I need slaughtered, and if you could do it for me, it would save me a trip to town.”

Rav Yisrael was many things, but he was not a shochet, and he could not oblige his host.

A little later, Rav Yisrael approached the innkeeper with a request. “Would you be willing to lend me a ruble?” he asked.

The innkeeper’s response was very blunt. “I don’t know you,” he said. “Why should I trust you with a ruble?”

Rav Yisrael told him, “Did you hear what you just said? When money was at stake, you wouldn’t trust me with a single ruble. Slaughtering an animal involves many halachos, but for that, you had no problem trusting a stranger!” (HaMeoros HaGedolim 110, p. 36)

How different are many of us from the innkeeper? We spend weeks investigating new products before making a purchase, from a pair of shoes to a refrigerator. We test drive cars and have new homes professionally appraised. We are cautious, educated consumers.

Unfortunately, spiritual concerns often do not receive as much attention. For example, how long do we deliberate before indulging in forbidden gossip? Do we always check produce prone to infestation for bugs, or do we tell ourselves that it’s probably fine? Do we make sure that the material we read or the topics we discuss on Shabbos are appropriate for this holy day?

Question for Discussion:

Avraham Avinu should be our model in mitzvos: they are top priority. Instead, we often tend to be more casual than careful about ruchniyus. Which one mitzvah would you like to fulfill better, and why?

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Parshas Chayei Sara #2

The Hand of Hashem

“And it was even before he finished speaking, when Rivkah came out” (Bereishis 24:15).

The Torah, ordinarily so concise, describes Eliezer’s meeting with Rivkah at some length. Why is this narrative important enough to be recounted in such detail?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, writes that this incident teaches us about hashgachah pratis (ongoing personal Divine Providence); everything that happens is orchestrated by the Al-mighty. However, Hashem’s Hand is largely hidden in this world, leaving us with many painful questions. Terrible, tragic events take place which we cannot understand – how can Hashem allow all this to happen?

And yet, there is one special area where hashgachah pratis is clearly evident, even in our times. Shidduchim, the circumstances which bring a husband and wife together, provide us with a glimpse into the workings of hashgachah pratis in this world.

Shidduchim have their own logic.Rav Sternbuch points out that intensive efforts do not always produce results in shidduchim; that shidduchim that seemed “perfect” do not always work; and that people with everything going for them may have a very hard time getting married, while more “average” young men and women easily find their match. He quotes the Brisker Rav, who said that the work we put into shidduchim is not really all that effective. It just makes us feel better! The right match comes at the right time.

The Torah recounts how Eliezer found Rivkah for Yitzchak to teach us that Hashem runs the world: no sooner had Eliezer requested Hashem’s help when Rivkah, the girl he was waiting for, miraculously appeared. Hashem’s hashgachah pratis operates in all areas of life, but we are able to observe it most openly in the realm of shidduchim (Taam V’Daas, Bereishis, p. 103).

Over Coffee

It was 1973. My parents, a young couple with two small children, had moved to Los Angeles, for my father to open a practice as an orthodontist. Initially, he subleased space from an orthodontist in Beverly Hills and waited. Three months passed, and business did not look too promising. In all that time he had signed up exactly one patient!

One day, with things so quiet in the office, my father visited the coffee shop in a neighboring medical building. He had never been to that coffee shop before. He could not help but overhear the conversation of two men at an adjacent table. The younger man was explaining why he had decided not to purchase the older man’s practice: the cost was too high and the risks were too great.

On an impulse, my father introduced himself to the older man and asked what kind of practice he wanted to sell. It was an orthodontic practice in that very same building.

On the spot, my father offered to buy the practice. After they shook hands on the sale, my father crossed the street to the bank and obtained a loan for the purchase price. He ran a very successful practice out of that same office for over forty years!

Incidentally, when my father and the older orthodontist placed their dental licenses side by side, their license numbers were exactly 10,000 numbers apart: 13153 and 23153.

True hashgacha pratis!

Question for Discussion:

When did you or someone you know feel the Hand of Hashem guiding your life in an obvious instance of hashgachah pratis.

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