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 Tetzaveh #1

Wearing Bells

“A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, [alternately] on the hem of the robe all around it. And Aharon will wear it when he serves [in the Sanctuary]. Its sound will be heard when he comes to the [Tabernacle] before Hashem, and when he goes out, and he will not die” (Shmos 28:34-35).

The Kohanim serving in the Mishkan and later, in the Beis HaMikdash, wore special Bigdei Kehunah (Priestly Garments). Every Kohen had four garments, and the Kohen Gadol, an additional four. All of these articles were made according to precise specifications. They were imbued with great sanctity and symbolic significance, and each article served as atonement for a specific sin on the part of the Jewish people (see Yoma 59a, Zevachim 88b).

One of the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol was the Me'il, a full-length robe worn under the Ephod. At the edge of the hem there was a row of small gold bells and “pomegranates.” These bells were more than decorative – they served the special function of announcing Aharon’s arrival and departure.

The Rashbam notes that Chazal derive an important principle from this passuk: “Do not enter your house suddenly” (Pesachim 112a). He explains, “Instead, make your voice heard to them before you enter.” Those inside the house may be busy with personal matters where privacy is appropriate, and it is proper to forewarn them that you are about to walk in. He cites the Midrash: Rabbi Yochanan would make a noise before entering the home of his teacher Rabbi Chanina, in keeping with the passuk, “Its sound will be heard when he comes to the [Tabernacle]” (Vayikra Rabbah 21:8).

The Etz Yosef (Vayikra Rabbah ibid.) explains why Rabbi Yochanan was so careful: “He did not arrive suddenly – they knew that he was coming. Even so, he would make a noise, simply out of respect, as if first asking permission. So too, [the sound made] by the Kohen Gadol was only for respect.” As we see, the bells on the Me'il teach us a lesson about common courtesy.

Courtesy

The need for courtesy and consideration, often called derech eretz, extends to every area of life.

A talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein recalled a lesson in derech eretz that he learned from his great rebbe. The talmid would be spending a few weeks at home during the summer break (bein hazemanim). When he said goodbye to Rav Moshe after Tisha B’Av, he asked his advice about what he should undertake as a bein hazemanim learning project. The answer was probably not what the young man expected: instead of recommending a masechta to study over the summer, Rav Moshe asked if the rav in this talmid’s small community gave a shiur between minchah and maariv. When the talmid verified that yes, there was such a shiur, Rav Moshe gave him his assignment.

In this student’s hometown, a yeshivah bachur was something of a rarity, Rav Moshe said. Coming from a New York yeshivah, he was no doubt considered a talmid chacham in his community. If he listened carefully to the local rav’s daily shiur, sitting up front and paying attention, rather than learning on his own in the back while the rav spoke, he would enhance the rav’s stature in the eyes of the community; they would see that even a visiting scholar was interested in what he had to say. This, Rav Moshe told him, was his bein hazemanim project: he should honor the rav with respectful behavior during his shiur (Mishpacha Magazine, Parshas Re’eh, 5775).

This story confirmed my own experience one summer many years ago. After my first year in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael, I worked as a counselor in a summer camp. Every Shabbos morning before Kerias HaTorah,a speaker addressed the campers. Fresh out of yeshivah, it seemed to me that I would gain more by using the time to learn on my own than by listening to the speech. Michael Appel, a close friend and fellow counselor, quietly told me to close my sefer and listen to the speaker. He was right. I did as he said, in order to show respect for the speaker and set a good example for my campers.

Question for Discussion:

What can we do in our daily lives to be more courteous to others?

Click Here To Respond

Response:

Kobi, from Miami, Florida, now learning in Ohr Somayach’s Derech program:

Until recently, I did not own a pair of tefillin. When I was ready to buy a pair of my own, Rabbi Yehudah Samet, the mashgiach of Ohr Somayach, spent many valuable hours with me over the course of a week. He taught me about how tefillin are made,and the meaning and importance of the mitzvah. He also helped me with the actual purchase, so that I could find a good quality pair at a reasonable price. Since he has done this many times, he knows what to look for and where to buy.

In all the time we spent together that week, there was one thing he did not tell me: his last name. Again and again, I called him “Rabbi Salmon,” mistakenly thinking that this was his name. He did not want me to feel bad, so he never bothered to correct me.

This went on for close to a week, until a friend heard me calling him “Rabbi Salmon.” “Dude,” he said, “his name is Rabbi Samet, not Rabbi Salmon.” I obviously felt bad about mispronouncing his name all week, especially considering everything he had done for me. But even more, my already great respect for Rabbi Samet increased still further, when I saw how sensitive and considerate he was, even about a detail like this.

Parshas Tetzaveh #2

Aharon’s Reminder

“A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, [alternately] on the hem of the robe all around it. And Aharon will wear it when he serves [in the Sanctuary]. Its sound will be heard when he comes to the [Tabernacle] before Hashem, and when he goes out, and he will not die” (Shmos 28:34-35).

Part of the flood of donations from the Jews in the desert went towards the Bigdei Kehunah (Priestly Garments). These sacred garments were carefully made, and each item had great spiritual significance. Even the trim on the Kohen Gadol’s Me'il (Robe), a series of gold bells alternating with “pomegranates,” held a message.

Rav Mordechai Gifter (1915-2001), rosh yeshivah of Telz in Cleveland, Ohio, pointed out that the sound of the bells on the Me'il was unmistakable, both to Aharon himself and to those around him. As he walked from place to place in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Aharon was well aware of every step he took, and he knew that others could hear him as well.

As the Kohen Gadol, Aharon was a leader, and he understood that every move he made had an impact; his actions were important to the Jewish people as a whole. In this sense, every Jew is also a leader – our actions, whether positive or negative, all count, even more than we may realize (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Parshas Tezaveh, “Every Step Has an Impact”).

In the Limelight

An incident recounted by Benjamin Brafman highlights this principle in very contemporary terms. Mr. Brafman is a criminal defense attorney whose high-profile cases often place him in the limelight. Mr. Brafman wrote, “Even minor encounters or seemingly inconsequential episodes in my professional life can take on extraordinary significance.”

He was working on a particular trial that received intense media coverage. A newspaper noted that the trial would adjourn on two o’clock on Fridays, because “lead counsel Ben Brafman, an observant Jew, had to be home before sundown.” He personally had not attributed much importance to this journalist’s comment, but for months, strangers stopped him in the street to thank him – he had made it much easier for them to explain shemiras Shabbos to their own employers.

Mr. Brafman concludes that in the eyes of the non-Jewish world, one Jew represents every Jew. Through our everyday actions, we can portray Jews as being kind and courteous, or offensive and obnoxious, G-d forbid (Benjamin Brafman, “Morality in the Workplace” Jewish Action, Winter 2005).

Question for Discussion:

What action of yours, or of someone you know, has had an unexpected – and hopefully positive – impact on others?

Click Here To Respond

Response:

Professor Yizhak Ahren, a talmid chacham who learned in Gateshead, now a professor of psychology at the University of Cologne, recalled an incident which took place over fifty years ago, when he was a child in Cologne, Germany.

The brother of the well-known Catholic theologian, Robert Grosche, hit my parents’ car while driving on the Ring, a main street in Cologne. There was no real damage, only a scratch on the bumper. My father accepted his apology, and considered the incident closed. Mr. Grosche called my father repeatedly, insisting on paying for a new bumper! In Israel, this sounds incredible, but it is true. My father finally agreed he could pay for a new bumper, even though in my father’s opinion, it was superfluous. This incident taught me the importance of paying for even nearly invisible damages. If we cause someone any damage, we should make the person whole.