Friday, June 27, 2008

Achieving a Harmonious Shabbos Table - Part 5 - Guest Post



Part 5

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.

Maintaining a Shabbos Atmosphere

Here are some of the vital areas that parents should focus on to preserve a Shabbos atmosphere during the meal. First and foremost, parents must role model these ideals for them to take effect.


Zemiros play a vital role in enhancing, beautifying and adding kedusha to the Shabbos seuda. When conducted properly, Shabbos zemiros give children something to anticipate each week, and their pleasant memories will remain with them for a lifetime.

The minhag of singing zemiros at the Shabbos table is sourced in Chazal: “Rava said, on Shabbos, the Jews eat, drink and say Torah and praises [to Hashem] (Mesechta Megilla, 12b).

The Sefer Chasidim(#271) adds that it is a mitzva to sing zemiros at the Shabbos table, as it is written, “מזמור שיר ליום השבת, טוב להודות לה' ולזמר לשמך עליון” (A song for the Shabbos Day. It is good to thank Hashem and sing praise to Your name. Tehillim 92:1-2).

Rav Yaakov Emden gives another profound insight to zemiros. He writes that the words of the zemiros are taken from psukim in Tanach, halachos and aggados of Shas, the Zohar and Midrash that speak about Shabbos. When we sing zemiros, Hashem listens to them and benefits the world with His goodness (Siddur Bais Yaakov, introduction to zemiros Shabbos).

Unfortunately, there are homes where zemiros are hardly sung, and once the family finally does start to sing, there is such a lack of harmony that the children lose interest in them. Rav Yissacher Frand was once on the way to give a shiur to a group of married men when an elderly European Jew approached him and said, “Zug der yungerleit, az a mohl hoben mir gezungen zemiros oif der Shabbos tish” (Tell these young men that we used to sing zemiros at the Shabbos table).

There’s a popular story about a famous rosh yeshiva who, after his wife died, arranged for a chasid come to his house each Shabbos to assist him during the meal. Once, the chasid brought one of his young sons to help him. Upon noticing the boy’s midos tovos and yiras shamayim, the rosh yeshiva remarked to the father, “You are probably wondering why your son became what he is, as opposed to mine who did not turn out to be what I expected of him. The answer is, when you were singing zemiros, I was learning the Rambam!”


Parental supervision of the family conversation during the meal is necessary to maintain a proper Shabbos atmosphere. Parents should avoid speaking about a child’s school, teacher or friend, as these subjects often lead to lashon hara. If a child has a particular problem in any of these areas, parents should encourage him to discuss it privately with them. Children should also be taught not to ask their siblings, “How do you like your rebbi, teacher or school?” Questions like this only invite trouble because any derogatory answer is lashon hara. Similary, speaking about family relatives can evoke a deragatory remark such as, “He/she is always grouchy, nervous, selfish, etc.”

Parents must also be on guard if someone asks, “How was the rabbi’s drasha?” The answer should always be positive. Any negative comment, whether about the content or the presentation, constitutes lashon hara. Examples include, “Today, the drasha was boring,” “You can tell that he wasn’t prepared,” or “It was so-so.”

Certainly, the Shabbos table should not be a forum to express individual opinions about yeshivos, roshei yeshivos or other religious circles or groups, such as Litvish, Chasidic or Sephardic. These useless discussions lead to one of the most severe types of lashon hara—speaking about a multitude of people (rabim) or a talmid chacham.

Another type of forbidden conversation that often enters the Shabbos table discussion is speaking about business or other things prohibited to do on Shabbos. (The halachos of prohibited speech on Shabbos are discussed in Shulchan Aruch O.C. #306-7). The severity of this halacha is clearly indicated by the Pele Yoetz, who writes that speaking divrei chol—weekday subjects—on Shabbos is also chilul Shabbos—desecrating the Shabbos. Some examples are:
• “That’s a nice suit (or shaitel)you have. Where did you get it?”
• “How much did you pay for that shirt?”
• “My watch stopped again. Where can I get it repaired?”
• “I have to get a haircut this week.”
• “I have to call my friend tonight.”


Secular newspapers, magazines and novels have no place in a Jewish home. (This subject is discussed in my CD, “Motivation—Key to a Successful Chinuch.”) In the event that they somehow find their way into the home, parents should not allow them to come to the holy Shabbos table. Rav E. Shach once remarked that secular newspapers are “muktza machmas miyus”—muktza because they are disgusting.


Chazal describe oneg Shabbos—the pleasure of Shabbos—as “mayain olam haba,” a resemblance of the pleasure in the afterlife (Mesechta Brachos, 57b).
Parents should reflect this feeling, which comes from enjoying eating, drinking and sleeping, throughout Shabbos.

The table should be adorned with delicious foods, salads and drinks within each family’s financial means. Through words and gestures, parents should express the feeling that the food is mayain olam haba. There is also a minhag to say, “Lekavod Shabbos Kodesh,” before eating to honor the Shabbos meal.

Parents cannot express oneg Shabbos properly if they overeat and show signs of indigestion or heartburn. The Shelah Hakadosh explains that the mitzva of oneg Shabbos is specifically to enjoy Shabbos and not oneself. Therefore, he writes, overeating, feeling ill from the excess food and then falling asleep from exhaustion is self-gratification (oneg atzmo) and not oneg Shabbos (Commentary to Mesechta Shabbos s.v. “Vekarasa).

(Picture courtesy of Yitzchak ben Yehuda)

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Anonymous said...

"Lechvod Shabbos Kodesh" is apppropriate to say on Erev Shabbos, on Shabbos itself it is more appropriate to say "Vekoroso LaShabbos Oneg".

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Whoa, who would have thought that Baltimore would produce someone that thinks that secular books have no place in a Jewish home! I remember seeing how the Lutzker Rov in his Aznaim LaTorah uses Robinson Crusoe as an description of the pain of a Metzora's isolation, how a certain Gadol asked "You mean you never read Anna Karenina?" and so forth. So don't seek inspiration from Dante. But Shakespeare? And can it be that a Dixie Yid never read "Gone with the Wind"? I think the best thing is to have them, but hide them. Or read them in the room that doesn't have a mezuzah.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Who's from Baltimore?

Not having secular books in the home is not my mehalech, but it is a mehalech for many people and it would be kedai to hear them out. I think that depends on the individual people you're talking about.

-Dixie Yid