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 Naso #1

A Gift to the Giver

“Each man’s sanctified gifts shall be his; what a man gives to the Kohen shall be his” (Bamidbar 5:10).

In Parshas Naso, the Torah mentions two of the Matnos Kehunah (Priestly Gifts) allocated to the Kohanim. The Torah’s instructions conclude, “What a man gives to the Kohen shall be his.”Understood simply, this means that whatever is given to the Kohen now belongs to him – it is his. The passuk can also be explained differently: the pronoun “his” can refer to the giver. Whatever he gives for sacred purposes – “to the Kohen” – remains his own. This double meaning provides a new perspective on money and charity.

Rav Azarayah Peugot (1579-1647), an early Italian Achron, elaborates. He writes that it is foolish to believe that the money we have stashed in our homes or vaults is really our own, while money given to charity is a total loss. The opposite is actually true – the money in the cashbox is not really ours. All we really own is the money we give for charity and sacred purposes (Binah L’Ittim, 41).

Never Lost

A story which took place less than a century ago highlights the truth of this principle.

Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, rosh yeshivah of the famed Slabodka Yeshivah in Europe, visited the United States in 1924 on a fund-raising trip for the financially strapped yeshivah. He was still in New York when he received catastrophic news: the yeshivah’s students faced imminent draft into the Lithuanian army, a disaster on every possible level. The only solution was to get the students out of Lithuania, far from the reach of the government. The yeshivah would be relocating one hundred fifty students to Eretz Yisrael, but the cost of this rescue mission was enormous: $25,000 in 1924 currency, equal to approximately $350,000 in 2016 dollars. Perhaps miraculously, a wealthy New York Jew named Mr. Schiff donated the entire sum. The students left Lithuania and established a branch of the yeshivah in the historic city of Chevron.

Just a few years later, Mr. Schiff lost his fortune in the Depression, and was reduced to living in the basement of a building he had formerly owned. Rav Moshe Mordechai’s son-in-law, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, came to the United States in the 1930’s to raise money for the yeshivah, and Mr. Schiff, now penniless, spoke at a parlor meeting. He told the group at the meeting that everything he had ever owned was gone; there was nothing left of his vast investment empire, except for the $25,000 he had given to establish the Chevron Yeshivah. That belonged to him and his family forever, and could never be lost.

Unknown to the listeners, there was even more to the story. When Rav Sarna heard that Mr. Schiff was now bankrupt, he sent a telegram to his father-in-law, telling him what had happened to the yeshivah’s generous friend. Rav Epstein cabled back instructions to Rav Sarna to arrange a loan of $5,000 for Mr. Schiff. This was a very sizable sum in those days, enough to help Mr. Schiff reestablish himself in business. Rav Sarna was able to raise the money, and he went to Mr. Schiff’s basement home to deliver it in person.

When he heard that the roshei yeshivah had obtained a loan for him, he was horrified. “What are you doing to me?” he said. “All I have left is the $25,000 I gave to the yeshivah. Do you want to deprive me even of that?”

Mr. Schiff’s money still continues to bear fruit. Relocated to Jerusalem after the 1929 Chevron Massacre, “Chevron” is today one of the major Torah centers in Eretz Yisrael.

Question for Discussion:

It is not easy to give money away to charity, but ultimately, we are the ones who benefit when we give. What is something you do because you know it is right, despite the difficulty?

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Dahlia, newly observant, spoke about a difficult challenge she deals with daily: “I grew up non-observant, but have been keeping Torah and mitzvos for four years, including the laws of tznius (modest dress). The idea of a married woman covering her hair was entirely foreign to me – no one I grew up with did this. Even now, I have a very hard time covering my hair when I go out to work every day. I do it because I know it is right, but I am so torn… At least twice a month, I dream about going out with my hair flowing freely. Maybe if I learned more about the mitzvah and the reasons behind it, it would be easier.”

As a parting gift, we gave Dahlia a book about the halachos of hair covering for a married woman, including sources and an explanation of the reasons for the mitzvah. We hope that by the next time we see Dahlia, this important mitzvah will no longer be such a struggle for her.

Parshas Naso #2

Identical

The Princes of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ families, brought offerings” (Bamidbar 7:2).

When the Mishkan was completed, all the Nesiim (Princes of the Tribes) brought the korbanos which inaugurated the Mizbeach along with the necessary vessels. Beginning on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, each day a different Nasi brought his offering. The Torah not only tells us on which day every Nasi brought the korban, but lists the details of what he gave – repeating the exact same information twelve times! The Torah is very sparing with its words; there are no extras and no repetition. Why is this information repeated at such length, rather than more concisely saying that each subsequent Nasi brought an identical korban?

Twelve Individuals

One answer is that an abbreviated account, listing Nachshon ben Aminadav’s offering in full and the others only as “the same as Nachshon’s,” would have been a slight to the honor of the other Nesiim. The Torah, ordinarily so very brief, added numerous pessukim for one purpose: to show honor and respect for every Nasi as an individual. Each one was equally worthy in the eyes of Hashem, and each had his own lofty intentions in bringing the korban. By providing the details of every Nasi’s korban as if it were the first and only, the Torah teaches us the tremendous importance of treating others with dignity and respect (Rabbeinu Bechayye, Bamidbar 7:84).

We can also learn another lesson from the Nesiim and their korbanos. It is human nature to want to shine, but the Nesiim made no attempt to stand out by giving more and better. Without exception, from first to last, their offerings were identical (Rabbi Moshe Grylak, Parashah U’Pisharah).

What of our own times, and the constant pressure to outdo those around us? This tendency is apparent in our homes, our simchas, and more. The Nessim were public figures, the nation’s princes, yet they felt no need to raise the bar in competition with their peers.

Question for Discussion:

How did someone you know or heard of show consideration for a fellow Jew?

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Response:

Rav Aryeh Levin of Jerusalem (1885-1969), a paragon of caring and consideration, was known as the “Father of the Prisoners”for his regular visits and loving devotion to the Jews imprisoned under the British Mandate. His son, Rav Chaim Yaakov Levin, told the story of another visit his father would make, discovered only by chance. The young Chaim Yaakov knew that every Rosh Chodesh afternoon, his father went to an unknown destination, taking along a small package. One Rosh Chodesh he started walking together with his father. To his surprise, someone stopped Reb Aryeh in the street and asked how his relative in the mental hospital was doing. Reb Aryeh answered, “Baruch Hashem.” As soon as the other man walked away, R. Chaim Yaakov asked who the relative in the mental hospital was.

Reb Aryeh explained. Some time ago, he had gone to the mental hospital to do a favor for one of the patients. He stayed to visit with the other patients, and noticed that one man showed clear signs of abuse – he had obviously taken a beating. The others told him that when a patient was agitated, the staff would react harshly, even hitting him to get him under control. Patients with family who visited were never hit – the staff knew that the family would complain if their relative was mistreated. This man had no one, and often bore the brunt of the staff’s short temper. Reb Aryeh was horrified. He immediately made a point of telling the staff that this patient was his relative, and that he hoped they were treating him well. Ever since, he made sure to visit him regularly, always bringing a small gift. From that day on, this unfortunate man became Reb Aryeh’s relative (Ish Tzaddik Hayah, pp. 87-88).