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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 Emor #1

Learning and Doing

“And you will preserve My commandments and you will fulfill them, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 22:31).

Along with the many halachos in Parshas Emor, the Torah instructs us to keep the mitzvos in general, telling us to both preserve them and fulfill them. What is the difference between “preserving” mitzvos (shemirah) and “fulfilling” them (asiyah)?

Rashi, citing Toras Kohanim, writes that “preserving” mitzvos means learning about them, and “fulfilling” mitzvos means doing them. In his commentary on this Rashi, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi writes that shemirah is in the heart (see Bereishis 37:11); we should learn about the mitzvos so that they will be preserved in our hearts. Then we can go on to fulfill them in actual practice. We need both elements – we should learn in order to know what to do, and act on what we are learning.

The Torah Temimah adds that knowledge of Torah is essential for fulfilling mitzvos: “An ignoramus cannot be pious” (Avos 2:5). The only way to know what is forbidden to us and what is required of us is by learning Torah.

At Once

Our cousins Rafi and Gavi, fifteen-year-old twins from Phoenix, Arizona, were staying with us in Jerusalem for a few days before their summer program in Israel began. For lack of other options in their community they attended public high school, supplemented by a daily half-hour learning session with their local rabbi every morning before davening. They were the only two yarmulke-wearing students in the entire school! In Jerusalem, surrounded by so many frum people, they felt right at home.

We learned an interesting halachah together. Based on a teaching of the Zohar, one should put on tefillin (and tallis, if applicable) at home, before leaving for shul (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 2:2). However, if he will be passing through unclean alleys on the way to shul, or if there are non-Jews in the street, he should instead put them on in the shul’s courtyard (Mishnah Berurah 8), so that he enters the shul already wearing tefillin.

The next morning, when I returned from the sunrise minyan, I found Rafi and Gavi happily putting on tefillin at our dining room table prior to leaving the house.As they walked the three blocks to shul, they were thrilled to be wearing their tefillin out in the open in the streets of Jerusalem. They had learned this halachah only the day before, and were acting on it at the very first opportunity.

(Special thanks to Simon Wolf, my chavrusa in yeshivah and in college, who introduced me to this halachah twenty-five years ago.)

Question for Discussion:

What is something you learned – a halachah, minhag, or mussar conceptthat you then implemented in your own life?

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Parshas Emor #2

Opportunity and Action

“And you will preserve My commandments and you will fulfill them, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 22:31).

At first glance, the wording of this passuk appears to be somewhat redundant. The commentaries offer a number of explanations which show that the words u’shemartem (“and you will preserve”) and v’asisem (“and you will fulfill”) are not merely a repetition of the same concept – they refer to different aspects of our obligation to keep Hashem’s commandments.

The Ibn Ezra writes that shemirah (preserving) is in the heart. The additional command to fulfill the mitzvos, with the reminder, “I am Hashem,” teaches us that Hashem will both examine our hearts, and also see what we have done.

We can explain the Ibn Ezra’s insight as follows. Hashem looks into our hearts, and He knows where our interests lie. Do we want mitzvos, or are we more involved in other, less worthy pursuits? This is the aspect of shemirah, that which is in the heart. The next stage is asiyah, what we actually do with our desire for mitzvos and the opportunities which come our way: do we follow through, or do we let them pass us by?

A mitzvah is a two-part test. The first part is about attitude – we should be excited about mitzvos, and look for opportunities for more. The second part is about action – when we see a chance for a mitzvah, we should grab it. Circumstances may not always allow us to do everything we would like, but at times, our own inertia is at fault. We need to want mitzvos, and we need to do them. If we are alert and aware, the opportunities, big and small, are everywhere.

Seizing a Mitzvah

United Hatzalah of Israel, familiar first responder at emergencies, accidents, and (may G-d spare us) terrorist attacks, had its start when the founder, Mr. Eli Beer, was six years old. He was on his way home from school with his older brother, when they literally saw a bus blow up before their eyes. An elderly victim cried out for help, but the terrified children ran away – in any case, what could they have done?

Eli never forgot, and at fifteen he trained as an EMT (emergency medical technician), volunteering on an ambulance for two years. He and the ambulance crew helped many people, but it soon became all too obvious to the teenaged Eli that they rarely reached the scene fast enough to be really effective; traffic and travel time were literally costing precious lives. One day a young child choked to death because it took twenty minutes for help to arrive, and Eli came up with an idea: he and fellow EMTs in his neighborhood would purchase beepers. When an emergency call came through in their neighborhood, they could be there in minutes. He begged the manager of the ambulance company to have these local calls dispatched to their beepers – and was laughed out of the office.

Eli didn’t give up. He bought two radio scanners and started listening in on emergency calls himself. The very next day, he rushed to the scene of an accident and saved an elderly man’s life – he used his yarmulke to press on the man’s neck to stop heavy bleeding until the ambulance came. Twenty-two years later, Hatzalah volunteers are saving lives everywhere; it now takes under three minutes on the average for Hatzalah to arrive wherever they are needed.

A young boy saw an opportunity for a vitally needed mitzvah, seized it, and encouraged many others to seize the opportunity as well. Countless Jews continue to benefit.

Question for Discussion:

When did you or someone you know of seize the opportunity for a mitzvah?

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