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 Haazinu #1

Nurtured by Torah

“Let my teaching fall like rain, [and] my words flow like dew, like a rainstorm on the grass, and like raindrops on blades of grass” (Devarim 32:2).

On the last day of his life, Moshe Rabbeinu prophetically foretold the future of the Jewish people until the end of time in the Song of Haazinu. Haazinu predicts the lengthy cycle of sin, punishment, and consolation in future generations. Moshe began by reminding the nation of the importance of Torah, as essential to life as rain and dew.

The Sifri explains the analogy of rain and dew. Rain falls on grass, lifting it up and causing it to grow; the same is true of Torah, which elevates man and makes him great. Drops of dew on the grass refine and nurture the blades of grass; Torah does the same for man.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch elaborates on the Sifri. He writes that with these words, Chazal teach us that there is a difference between those who learn Torah and fulfill mitzvos, and those who do not. Torah and mitzvos uplift us and make us grow, “sanctifying and elevating all of our perceptions and senses.” A student of Torah attains a higher level, far above those whose interests and occupations are totally secular in nature. In comparison, the latter have no understanding of life’s true purpose.

People who are continually involved in Torah enjoy satisfaction and fulfillment unknown to those whose pursuits are entirely secular. Unlike material pleasures which come and go and eventually lose their appeal, the pleasure derived by the soul from Torah is never-ending (Taam V’daas).

Looking In

A secular journalist in her twenties was suddenly granted a very personal look into the life of a frum family when her new, second iPhone was given the phone number that had previously belonged to “Minda” from Cleveland. She began receiving text messages about appointments for Minda’s haircutting business, orders for her husband’s erev-Shabbos sushi delivery, and mazal tov’s for her new baby. This woman had never seen or experienced anything like it: “The texts only gave me snippets of Minda’s life, but it was clear it was vastly different from mine.” She eventually shared a few of Minda’s messages with her friends on Twitter, and not long after, got a text message from Minda’s husband, asking her to forward his wife’s new number to people trying to reach them.

She did so gladly, and was soon handling “requests to put some Minda haircuts into an upcoming kollel auction, neighbors wondering if they could borrow a car-seat adapter, an acquaintance looking for a ride, another trying to drop in on New Years [Rosh Hashanah], [and] something about a ‘hashgacha job’…. They stood in stark contrast to what was on my personal phone: a mix of one-sided conversations with robots – Twitter verification codes, Uber arrival alerts, Cleanly pickup warnings, invitations to track a Seamless order – and rambling, emoji- and abbreviation-filled conversations with friends. If [Minda’s] text-istence was evidence of her strong ties to her community, mine was evidence of my love of Seamless. My Venmo alerts were often the only evidence I went out and did something.”

A month later, the journalist’s phone was stolen, and she could not afford another new phone only for personal use. She went back to using her original business number, ending her contact with Minda. “Losing Minda’s number felt like losing a community… Minda has supportive friends and strong community ties; her life is one to aspire to.”

This journalist was not exposed to Torah itself, and had not actually met frum people living a Torah life in person – yet even this brief glimpse into the world of a Torah-observant family was enough to show her that this was a “life… to aspire to” (“I Got a New Phone and Became Someone Else (A Hairstylist in Cleveland)” by Alyssa Bereznak, New York Magazine, March 22, 2016).

Question for Discussion:

What has Torah added to your life?

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Response:

“Jeff,” a successful accountant from Chicago, now learning in yeshivah in Jerusalem, had everything: a successful career with a six-figure salary, a condo, nice car, and more. He could not understand why he was not happy; what could he possibly need that he did not already have? A ten-day trip to Israel with Rabbi Shalom Garfinkel of Chicago’s JET YP (Jewish Education Team Young Professionals), including time learning in Ohr Somayach, showed him that he was not lacking additional materialism – he was missing spirituality. The more he learned, the more he realized that his life, although comfortable, lacked clear principles and a strong foundation.

The JET group was invited to the home of a family of American olim for the Friday night seudah. Jeff spent a long time speaking with “Tzvi,” the family’s husband and father, about his transition from an intensive fulltime career in the United States, to a life that combines working and Torah learning in Jerusalem.

Jeff saw that it really can be done. He returned to Chicago, quit his job, put his condo up for sale, and bought a one-way ticket to Israel. He now spends at least five hours a day learning, and with Hashem’s help, continues to grow.

Parshas Haazinu #2

Like Father, Like Son

“Corruption is not [Hashem’s]. It is a fault [found in] the sons, a crooked and twisted generation” (Devarim 32:5).

In the Song of Haazinu, Moshe Rabbeinu teaches the Jewish people that the blame for their sins lies only with them, and not with the Al-mighty. It is not Hashem Who is corrupt, but the sinner himself (Rashi). Moshe’s words can also be understood as a reference to the frightening, far-reaching impact of sin.

The Kli Yakar explains that the word banav (“his sons”) is an allusion to deeds; one’s actions are considered his offspring. Tzaddikim produce good deeds, and wicked people produce sins.

He writes that a wicked person denies the truth and disowns his sinful deeds. He says, lo banav – they are not his “children.” This, continues the Kli Yakar, is the main fault of the wicked. No matter what they have done, they feel no guilt, because they are “a crooked and twisted generation” who are not prepared to admit the truth. What is more, their sinful behavior is so entrenched that they no longer even view it as a problem; to them it seems normal (see Yoma 86b).

Role Modelling

Rav Sternbuch offers an important insight based on this passuk. The individual who is sinful and corrupt should not fool himself into thinking that his actions affect only himself. Rather than serving as a good example for his family, he is ruining them.

Parents cannot assume that by sending their children to Torah schools, they have done their duty in providing them with a Torah education. If the father himself does not set a positive example by learning and davening, he is causing long-term damage to his children’s souls that will one day surface as corruption and a lack of emunah (Taam V’daas).

Scandal broke when it turned out that a certain CEO was consistently pocketing money that belonged to the company, as well as to individual employees. A disturbing story later emerged. As a child, this CEO had accompanied his father on an overseas flight. Someone had asked the father to take along a book to give someone, who would pick it up at the airport. He was surprised, since this particular book was readily available in any bookstore – there was no real need to send a copy with a messenger from abroad.

Father and son arrived at the airport, and as arranged, there was a man there waiting for them. “The book?” said the father. “Oh, I’m sorry… I forgot it on the plane.”

However, this was not quite true. He had discovered that there was a large sum of money concealed in the book’s binding, and decided to keep it for himself. The CEO was unfortunately only following his father’s dreadful example.

There are many fathers who work long, hard hours. By the time they get home they are physically and emotionally drained, but will still make the push to attend a shiur or learn with a chavrusa. “Yosef,” one such father, consistently made a point of telling his family that he was going out to an evening shiur in a local beis medrash. He really did go – every night. And as soon as he sat down and opened his Gemara, he fell asleep – also, every night. One day the maggid shiur asked him why he bothered coming, if he was always too tired to stay awake.

Yosef told him that he came so that his children would see him leaving the house after work, Gemara in hand, to go learn. This was the image he wanted to imprint on their minds and souls, in the hope that eventually, they and their own children after them would do the same – with the energy to stay awake.

Question for discussion:

As parents, we project a long-lasting image to our children. It can be one of dedication to Torah and mitzvos, or one that is very much the opposite. How has a parent or another person been a positive role model for you?

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