Home on a Shabbat
By H. M. Friedberg
I am retired and I, like many men of my age, enjoy going to a Torah study group. In the building in which we learn are several other groups. One group is comprised of elderly gentlemen, some of whom come in wheelchairs and in walkers. One man in particular comes in with an attendant who happens to be my age, but he enjoys working as an attendant. He is an amicable man with a robust sense of humor. After he assists his "client" to be seated he quietly excuses himself for the comfort of his auto or just the outdoor sun.
One day he came back early and sat down next to me. I was trying to understand some of the fascinating depth in the words of our sages. I noticed that he was looking at me so I raised my head towards him and asked him "what's new?"
He replied with a statement that surprised me. "I envy you."
"Who me? What is there about me that is enviable?"
"You enjoy what you are doing and you feel happy in this environment. It seems to me that it is rare that someone is happy with their life. What do the sages say", he tried to remember the quote, "'happy with their
I filled in for him. "Who is happy? One who is happy with his portion in the world."
"Yes, that is it. You seem happy with what you are doing. You are always here studying. I never see you taking a break. It seems that you really enjoy this learning group."
"True," I admitted.
"You know," he continued, "I envy you people and your family life. I was born in Bulgaria; my father was a kofer (an atheist) but my grandfather was the shamash (beadle) of the local synagogue. I came here as a baby and grew up with no knowledge of Judaism. It was only when I was twenty-four when I married my wife, a daughter of a traditional Jewish family from Egypt, that I began to see what Judaism was.
"It was so nice," he continued, "each Friday night my father-in-law would make kiddush and then bless each child. He would take each child and give them a kiss. I never saw any of this in my house."
.?" I waited, wondering that if he thought that a traditional house was so good, why did he not follow in his father-in-law's path?
"I never understood what to do and why it is done so I never adopted those practices in my home. Besides, I do not know what the prayers are all about. It seemed too much for me to adapt into my house. My children grew up and moved away. But I noticed that the traditional Jews maintain a strong contact with their children and grand-children."
* * * * *
I began to recall a study I read in the New York Times that the family that eats together stays together. The report explained that in homes where there was no common dinner time, rather the children ate when ever they what ever time they wanted, the mother came home and ate what ever time it was convenient for her, and the father also did not eat with the rest of the family this type of family suffered the most from family breakup, estrangement of the children from the parents, and child development problems.
On the other hand, the report stated that families that eat at least one meal together a day on a regular basis retain the family ties both between the parents and the children, and also between the children themselves. The report explained that this is because dinner is a very important event in which the various events of the day are spoken about and even more important, they are evaluated according to the family's value system. It is these values that are the important element in forming good character in the child and it is imparted in a discussion mode, in a manner in which the child picks up the values without the values being openly taught, but rather using the current events as the element of teaching.
Children from families like this are better able to deal with the world, feel more secure about their own identity, and generally do better in school than children from homes in which meal times are not a family centered affair.
When I was a young man, I received little religious training from my parents. They grew up during the depression and money and food was on very short supply. I knew that I was Jewish, but I was taught that I must study in college to become a professional (which I did) in order to make a good life. My study of Jewish lore and law became was my own personal part-time project. Yet, when it was my turn to raise a family, I did it in the spirit of the Jewish tradition.
Now that I am older and retired and my children have married and blessed me with grandchildren, I realize that I have been very fortunate. I have not made a fortune nor have I acquired any impressive property. But I have a loving extended family that still is together and supports and cares for each other.
If I could give one word of advice to a new couple, I would say, observe the Shabbat, as a Jew watches over the Shabbat so the Shabbat watches over the Jew. The delight I had seeing my children grow up around our Shabbat table is still with me. I remember my children showing me what they were learning and my relishing every hour with them. I remember sharing not just the happy times, but mulling over their disappointments at the Shabbat table.
From the Shabbat table which generally was a good hour or more, for we also sang songs together and discussed current problems, such as drugs, and people "dropping out". Our togetherness extended to the week day table. We spent less time together during the week day dinner than the Shabbat, but still, we were together.
Guests came to our Shabbat table and we exchanged, debated and shared ideas. At that time I did not understand that I was giving to my children a most valuable gift, the gift of a sense of values that will guide them through their lives, and G-d willing, they will pass it on to their children.
I wish this for all of my readers, that they too, should cultivate the dinner as a family event, and even more so, that the Shabbat table, in which the time element is suspended, that time with the family should extends beyond the generations.
I recommend also that you practice the Shabbat table etiquette that gives it the special character during the week day too. Do not answer your telephone, cell-phone, beeper or what ever. No television, radio, walkman, ipod, etc during the time of the meal. No reading books or magazines while sitting down at the table. Just like this enhances the Shabbat table, it shows the way to enhance your life.
from the January 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine