“Chicken Soup for the Shabbat Table”
Improving Jewish Family Learning & Dynamics
The sequel

Joel Guberman

"What I look forward to most about the Shabbat table is the visiting of the angels." This was the answer of a father of four when asked what he likes most about the Shabbat table. When we look closer at this esoteric statement regarding the beauty of the family gathering around the Shabbat table, perhaps we can gain insight into some of the secrets of the Shabbat table.

What angels are we talking about , why do they visit us, and how can we feel them more? What if they don’t visit at our table, what if the ‘’angels’’ are actually coming to disrupt our family gathering?

While cloaked in the hidden secrets of the heavens, this relationship with the angels is just one framework for looking at the magnificence of the Friday night meal.

For those who are frightened and intimidated by celestial beings, the more cognitive/behavioristic approach to understanding the myriads of levels of family interaction and educational opportunities may be more suitable. Either way, the Friday night Shabbat meal is an event whose potential should not be belittled.

Different frames of reference for investigating the events and significance of the Friday night Shabbat table will give parents a set of tools and a framework to help enhance this special event. These frames of reference include:

  1. The somewhat mystical approach of the visiting angels and the battles between Kedusha and its antithesis.

  2. Getting a greater understanding of the challenges we are faced with at the Shabbat table from a behavioral point of view.

  3. An emphasis on understanding the rich customs that surround our Shabbat tables, and using them to teach about interpersonal relationships and many of the important concepts of Shabbat.

  4. Using Rav Volbe’s ideas of Planting and Building in education as a framework for understanding some of the different ways of viewing the Shabbat educational opportunities (education of both values and of concepts).

This guide sees the importance of combining Jewish wisdom together with more recent research. The following is an example of the intertwining of these two approaches, each one enhancing the other.

There is an interesting chasidic story that emphasizes just how strong the influence of eating and drinking is in building relationships.

Once there was a well known Misnagid named Reb Azriel, otherwise known as Rosh Barzel, who was famed for his genius and dedication to Torah learning. He lived in the town of the Chozeh Melublin and he would often ask him questions about chasidism. Once he asked the Chozeh: Why is it that chasidim always make a lechaim after davening, why don’t they just learn Torah? The Chozeh explained with the following. In the Gemarrah it states that Rabbi Meir learned torah from Acher the heretic, yet it teaches that you can’t drink together with a heretic. Why is that? Because eating and drinking together builds relationships, and brings the hearts together, whereas sharing ideas does not have this same power.

Besides the emotional and general health benefits that have been discussed regarding family rituals, there has been growing documentation of the cognitive and social benefits of family rituals. Various studies have looked into the benefits of improved vocabulary, socialization skills and the imparting of values. Perhaps the most striking piece of research, which ties all these benefits together, is that of Bowden and Zeisz (1997). Based on this research," the Greater New Milford (Ct.) community 2000 task force on Teen and Adolescent Issues determined that the single most effective intervention for the widest variety of teen and adolescent problems was also the easiest, speediest and least expensive: The implementation of Family mealtimes."

The format draws heavily on stories many of which were recorded from discussions with Rav Abraham Twersky, M.D. The format includes a development of one of the frames of reference and is followed by a short synopsis and exercise. This will help to make this resource more user friendly and practical.

Below is an example of this format:

Focal point:
-There are many challenges we face at the outset of the Friday night meal. These include sleep debt, sibling rivalry, disparity between goals and ideals, etc.

One exercise for helping to alleviate some of the tension between siblings is to aknowledge negative feelings that your child has rather than dismissing those feelings.
Rewrite the following scenario with a response that acknowledges your childs feelings.
Child: Shari always bumps me with her elbow when she’s eating
Parent: Just ignore her!


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