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Welcome to Our Shabbos Table

Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Chukas
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Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Chukas

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, email us at responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Chukas/ Tamperproof

“Any open vessel that has no seal fastened around it becomes unclean” (Bamidbar 19:15).

Our parshah opens with a lengthy discussion of the impurity caused by contact with a corpse. If a person dies in a tent, for instance, anyone and anything therein shall be unclean for seven days.

In this context, the Michtav Sofer (son of the Chasam Sofer) notes that man too is an “open vessel” in danger of contamination in an impure world. Therefore he must “cover” himself, reining in his thought lest he go astray. This is the deeper meaning of Chazal’s directive to “Cover your head so that the fear of Heaven may be upon you” (Shabbos 156b).

Head Start

The mother of Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak was warned by astrologers that her infant son was destined to be a thief. To counteract this dreadful inborn tendency, she insisted that he keep his head covered at all times to imbue him with the fear of Heaven….

One day as Rabbi Nachman sat learning under a date palm, a powerful wind blew off his turban. Suddenly he noticed the delicious-looking dates hanging from the branches. They didn’t belong to him, but he couldn’t restrain himself. He clambered up the tree, and in his overwhelming desire to devour those dates, he ripped them off the branches with his teeth!

At that moment, Rabbi Nachman understood why his mother had insisted that his head remain covered. (Shabbos 156b)

In keeping with this Gemara, Rabbi Moshe HaKohen, a Rishon, cautioned against sitting bare-headed even briefly. “The honor of the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the entire world,” he wrote, so one should “place Hashem before me always” (Tehillim 16:8).(Sefer Chassidim HeChadash, p.12)

Fringe Benefits

Various mitzvos “keep us in check,” reminding us of our allegiance to Torah. These include our yarmulke, tzitzis, and the mezuzah on our door.

The Ibn Ezra’s explanation of the mitzvah of tzitzis (Bamidbar 15:39) is especially relevant. In his opinion, the obligation to wear tzitzis is even greater throughout the day than it is during davening. That’s because tzitzis serve as a tangible reminder not to sin, and we’re much less likely to transgress while praying than when caught up in work and other mundane matters.

The Sefer HaChinuch (421) states that surrounding ourselves by mitzvos protects us from sin. Thus we wear tzitzis on all four corners of our garment and tefillin on our head and arm, and we place a mezuzah at the doorway. All these remind us to be honest and resist temptation (Sefer HaChinuch). Wearing a yarmulke is likewise a constant reminder that Hashem is ever-present.

Powerful Warning

Without the protective “cover” of Torah and mitzvos, one is automatically inundated by the outside world and is de facto tamei, tainted.

Rabbi Mayer Twersky of Yeshiva University recommends extending this “coverage” by attaching a note to our office computer or phone with a pasuk such as Tehillim 16:8, quoted above. Though we may need to be in the secular workplace, we must not be influenced by it.

Question for Discussion:

Mitzvos are tangible reminders of what’s important in life. Whether tangible (such as a kippah or mezuzah) or intangible (such as Shabbos or kashrus), they reconnect us to Hashem despite our hectic lives. What mitzvah do you perceive as crucial to your spiritual health?