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 Ki Sissa #1

Losing the Luchos

“The Tablets were made by G-d, and the writing was G-d’s writing, engraved on the Tablets” (Shmos 32:16).

Every aspect of the first Luchos given at Mount Sinai was miraculous. The Tablets themselves, the letters, and the writing are counted among the ten special creations made just before twilight on the sixth day of Creation. They were carved and inscribed by Hashem Himself, unlike the second Luchos, which were also inscribed by Hashem, but carved by Moshe. The letters could be read from all directions, front and back. The letters mem sofis and samech, a square and a circle entirely hollowed out all the way through the stone, miraculously remained standing in place, even though they were detached from the surface of the Tablets (Avos 5:6, Bartenura and Tiferes Yisrael; Shabbos 104a).

When the Torah recounts that Hashem gave Moshe the Luchos at Mount Sinai, the description is very brief: it says that they were “stone Tablets, written by the Finger of G-d” (Shmos 31:18). It is only later, just before Moshe witnessed the Sin of the Golden Calf and shattered the Luchos, that the Torah provides more detail about how miraculous they truly were. It is now that we learn that the writing was on two sides, front and back, and that “the Tablets were made by G-d, and the writing was G-d’s writing, engraved on the Tablets.”

Wouldn’t it have been more logical to include the detailed description of the unique nature of the Luchos when they were given, and not moments before they were shattered? Why is it only then that we are provided with this information?

Taken for Granted

The author of Shemen HaTov suggests an interesting answer to this question, one that is relevant to many areas in life. It is human nature for us to take what we have for granted, especially if we have had it for a long time. It has always been around, we feel, and presumably always will be, so we do not give it much thought. We only wake up when we are about to lose it – that is when we suddenly realize how special it really is, and how much it means to us.

This is true not only of possessions, but unfortunately, of people as well. We are so used to our family and friends that we think they will be with us forever. We only appreciate them when a loss is imminent, G-d forbid. Suddenly, every moment shared and every word spoken is memorable and precious. We can learn a lesson from the Luchos; their true sanctity and greatness were recognized at the last crucial moment before they were gone forever.

There are many gifts in life which we tend to take for granted: family members, including our spouse and children, opportunities to learn, and other blessings. We should take the time to appreciate them while we have them, and not only when we fear losing them (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Parshas Ki Sissa, “Appreciate It while You Have It”).

Question for Discussion:

What is something you greatly appreciate, and why?

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Response:

A response from Mrs. Rosa Romanowsky, originally from Mexico and San Diego, now in Jerusalem, is especially moving in light of the tragedies she has experienced in recent years with the loss of her son, brother, and husband, and her own illness and recovery: “I am grateful for both the good and bad things that have happened to me, because they make me who I am.” May she be blessed with only simchos and nachas in the future!

Parshas Ki Sissa # 2

The Voice in the Camp

“And Yehoshua heard the voice of the nation [raised] in outcry, and he said to Moshe, ‘There is the voice of war in the camp.’ And [Moshe] said, ‘There is neither a voice of strength nor a voice of weakness. I hear a voice of anguish’” (Shmos 32:17-18).

After the Torah was given on Mount Sinai Moshe spent forty days in Heaven, where Hashem taught him the entire Torah. When the forty days were over Moshe descended with the Luchos, two stone Tablets carved and inscribed by the Al-mighty Himself (Shmos 31:18). Tragically, the Jewish people miscalculated; a little too early, they concluded that the forty days were already over. When Moshe did not return as expected, they were sure that he would never come back, and they sought a substitute. The result was the Sin of the Golden Calf, a disaster with long-term ramifications for the Jewish people (ibid. 32:1-4, Rashi).

Yehoshua, Moshe’s close disciple and eventual successor, was not in the camp when the festivities for the Calf were taking place. He waited for Moshe at the foot of the mountain, and was there when Moshe arrived with the Luchos. The noise from the camp was audible at a distance, and he told Moshe that he heard “the voice of war.”

Moshe told him that these were not the cries of battle. At a battlefield, they would hear the victor’s shouts of triumph and the wails of the vanquished. This was neither – it was, Moshe said, “a voice of anguish” and distress (ibid. 32:18, Rashi and Malbim).

No Fun

The people clustered around the Golden Calf were eating, drinking, dancing and celebrating (ibid. 32:6, 19, Rashi). Why would Moshe pick up on a sound of distress coming from the camp? They were having a wonderful time!

Apparently, they were not.

Moshe was a great enough leader to discern between different intonations in the cries of his people. His question was actually a subtle rebuke to Yehoshua – he too should have been able to tell the difference, and assess the people’s state of mind by the sound of their voices (Ramban). In this instance, the Jews caught up in the worship of the Golden Calf may have been convinced that they were very happy, and enjoying every minute of the lighthearted celebration. Just from hearing the shouting, Moshe knew that deep down they were miserable, because the yetzer hara is a master of deception. In the end, the fun he promotes is no fun at all (see Alshich).

Every day of our lives, there are positive “voices” urging us toward Torah, mitzvos, and chesed. They are forced to compete with some other very appealing “voices” clamoring for our attention – opportunities for money, status, “good” times, and more. Can we tell the difference between what is truly satisfying and enjoyable, and what will only be “a voice of anguish”?

Question for Discussion:

We often confuse happiness and “fun,” and imagine that inappropriate fun will make us happy. What gives you true, meaningful happiness?

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Response:

Two of my children encountered this conflict in school. As a first-grader, my son was very well-behaved, both in the classroom and on the school bus. Much to our surprise, he suddenly began acting up in a way that was totally out of character. He went so far that we got phone calls from his teacher – in the middle of class – and the bus monitor. It lasted for a week. When I spoke to him, he told me that he had watched other boys misbehaving, and it had looked like fun… so he decided to try for himself. A week was enough to show him that it really was not fun, and he stopped. He discovered that what really made him happy was behaving well!

My daughter had a similar experience in seventh grade. It was Rosh Chodesh Adar, a day when Israeli students traditionally allow themselves a bit of fun in school. The fun got out of hand – the girls all decided to shout out loud for an entire period. She was caught up in the atmosphere and went along with class. She did enjoy it to a certain extent, but came home unhappy. Her throat hurt from the shouting, and she did not have a good feeling about what had happened. In her words, “I am not doing that again, even if everyone else does. Even just sitting there doing nothing would be better than participating.” She maintained that misbehaving consumes more energy than behaving, with a lot of negative consequences, while behaving well is not only easier, it has many added bonuses.