Friday, June 20, 2008

Achieving a Harmonious Shabbos Table Part 4 - Guest Post



Part 4

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.

Opportunities in Chinuch


One of the highlights of the Shabbos table is the father’s dvar Torah, which provides a tremendous opportunity to instill the children with hashkafa and yiras shamayim beyond what they learn in school. Children may learn from their rebbi about emuna, bitachon and the severity of violating Shabbos or speaking lashon hara, but hearing their father speak about these subjects with enthusiasm and seeing him modeling these ideas will make a lifelong impression on them. In addition, there may be important details about various halachos that are not taught in school, such as what is or isn’t lashon hara, how to honor Shabbos and parents properly, etc., which a child only learns in his home.

As Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky once remarked, “The home is a kingdom for teaching proper midos. Even after a child begins school, the family remains the prime source of values.” In Rav Kaminetsky’s opinion, proper chinuch depends, above all, on the home. Until age 18, a boy still needs his family, and a girl continues to benefit from being near her mother. For this reason, he opposed sending children away from home to yeshiva unless circumstances make it necessary (Reb Yaakov, Artscroll, p. 322).

Clearly, children need chinuch both outside and inside the home, and it is up to the parents to make the home a stimulating educational environment. For example, in order for children to receive maximum benefit from the father’s dvar Torah, it must be interesting. A boring dvar Torah will not only result in the children not listening and absorbing what is said, it will also make them restless.
To keep children attentive, parents must speak on their intellectual level by making the dvar Torah as simple as possible. Deep and involved discussions, especially with guests, will cause younger children to lose their interest. In addition, unless the dvar Torah includes an interesting story, it should be short and to the point. Children have short attention spans, so giving a long drasha will only cause them to daydream and become bored.

Since the entire family should gain from a dvar Torah, parents should not use the mealtime for testing a child or for chazara –review. Testing a child may make him nervous, and individual learning can make the other children restless.
I was once at a Shabbos table where the father has a custom of learning Mishnayos with one of the sons. I thought this was a nice idea until I heard them learning an entire perek of Mesechta Eiruvin! The other children, who had no clue what was going on, simply left the table, and the other guests became bored.
Stories are excellent ways to keep a child’s interest and convey Torah ideals. (This is because people remember stories better than information.) Parents can share true and inspiring biographical stories of Torah sages, or other stories with a Torah theme. Long stories can be divided into weekly portions so that the child will look forward to the next part the following Shabbos.


The Shabbos table provides parents with golden opportunities to train their children in certain vital areas of chinuch. First and foremost is the mitzva kibud u’morah av v’eim (honoring and revering parents). The children should learn and feel that serving their parents and tending to their needs is a privilege, not a burden. When asking a child to bring them something, parents should ask, “Who wants a mitzva?” The parents should be the first to be served and to take from the central plate (followed by the oldest children).
In the same pleasant manner, parents can also instill mora—reverence—in their children. Some examples include:
• If a child sits in the parent’s place, he should be told gently the halacha of not sitting there.
• A child should not interrupt or talk when a parent is speaking, singing zemiros or saying a dvar Torah.
• When requesting something, he should say, “please” and “thank you” without sounding demanding.
• If one of the children asks his parent a question, another child should not jump to answer it before the parent.
Parents should also teach children that this mitzva benefits them greatly in both this world and the next. (This subject is discussed at length in my booklet “Honoring Parents—The Privilege and the Challenge.”)


Role modeling exerts a subtle yet very powerful influence on children, as they learn more from what they see than from what they hear. Parents and teachers can speak much about the severity of lying or speaking lashon hara, but if they are living examples of it, these concepts will make lifelong impressions on the children (This subject is discussed on my CD, “Your Influence as a Role Model”). The Shabbos table provides an excellent setting for parents to role model many areas of derech eretz and chinuch for their children. The following are some examples:

• Eating with derech eretz. As with many midos, children learn how to eat with derech eretz from their parents. Therefore, during the meal, the parents should role model eating with derech eretz, e.g., taking moderate portions from a center plate, refraining from overeating and using proper table etiquette. Likewise, at a simcha such as a shalom zachor or Kiddush, the parents should train their children in proper etiquette, such as not grabbing food, waiting their turn in line, placing food on their plates neatly, using a napkin, etc.

• Appreciating and complimenting. Another essential mida in chinich provided by the Shabbos table atmosphere is training children to thank and express appreciation to another person who has benefited them. This mida is especially important in today’s times, when many children are brought up spoiled by their parents and are always on the receiving side (some term this an “es kumpt mir” generation—meaning, “it’s coming to me”). This is best accomplished when parents role model appreciation by verbally thanking a child who helps set the table, serves food, cleans up nicely, sings zemiros or says a dvar Torah.

Parents should also do the same for each other. The husband should thank, appreciate and compliment his wife on the preparation and tasty Shabbos food, and the wife should do the same about her husband’s dvar Torah.

Rav Yisroel Salanter aptly captured this concept by stating, “To compliment a woman’s cooking is like complimenting a rosh yeshiva on his shiur.” If this is true regarding adults, even moreso it applies to children.

• Brachos and benching. Children learn how to say brachos and bentch properly from their parents. When Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky was asked how and when he trained his children to brachos, he replied, “We never taught them. They saw us making brachos before and after eating, and because children naturally imitate their parents, they started saying brachos too” (Reb Yaakov, Artscroll, p. 324).

Therefore, it is vital for the father to say kiddush and hamotzi slowly and clearly. Fathers who run through brachos and kiddush will subconsciously train their children to do the same.
When benching parents should bench from a siddur and avoid making gestures to other family members. They should impress upon their children that bentching is a mitzvah d’orysa and should be treated as important as Shemoneh Esrei.

(Picture courtesy of lightgap)

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1 comment:

Neil Harris said...

Beautiful idea and eitzos! Thanks.