by Rav Keith Flaks
Chapter 3 Mishna 4
Rabbi Shimon says: Three people who eat on one table and have not spoken words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten from dead sacrifices…But three who have eaten on one table and have spoken words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten from the table of God, as it says …this is the table which is before Hashem.
A few of questions jump into my head:
- Dead Sacrifices! That’s pretty intense! Granted Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of this Mishna, was an intense guy…but why does he attach such importance to bringing Torah to the meal? Just because I didn’t say Torah at the table, I am now eating dead carcasses! Seems a bit harsh. And on the flip side, just by saying a cute vort at the table (Moshe spelled backwards is Hashem!), I am now sitting at the table of God! What’s the Pshat?
- Halacha Lmaysa, is this something we are obligated to do? Or is it just nice advice…
The Aruch Hashulchan (170:1) and the Chayey Adam write that minimally one is obligated to say Shir Hamaalot or Al N’harot Bavel before Benching and thereby one fulfills his obligation of saying Divrei Torah at the meal. Note, that this obligation is also relevant on weekdays, not just on Shabbos!
The The Shlah Hakodosh (Rav Isaac Horowitz in Shar Ha’osios 62a “V’efshar) writes that while one elevates his meal above the level of “Zivchey Metim” when he says Shir Hamaalot, one only raises the meal to the level of “this is the table before Hashem”, if we actually learn Torah, i.e Mishna, Halacha, Aggadah, or Mussar at the table. That makes a lot of sense. The more seriously we take this, the more schinah consciousness we bring into our meal.
The Bartenura holds that Birkat Hamazon itself can also elevate a person’s meal above the level of “Zivchey Metim” as there are many Torah concepts included in Birkat Hamazon. Of course, this is assuming that we actually pay attention to the words we say in Birkat Hamazon, instead of just “Baruchatahhashemkeynumelechhaolaming”!
I have heard it brought down in the name of Rav Aaron that ideally Rav Shimon does not envision us sitting down talking about the Heat game, when someone gets up and says a random 10 second Dvar Torah, at which point we go back to our discussion about Lebron. Instead the intention is that the discussion at our meals should be about meaningful and Torah-related topics!
With that said, I do think that just the act of someone getting up and saying a Dvar Torah can infuse the meal with a spirit of kedusha, and remind us to try to direct our topic of discussion towards Torah-related topics.
Why is talking Torah at a meal such a big deal?
My heillege wife Nili explained to me the hippy trippy Kabbalist perspective (After all, who is the author of our Mishna? Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, who survived for 12 years off of carob trees!). At each meal, not only do we get our physical nourishment, we also must get our spiritual vitamins that we need that day! Just as we need the right amount of fruits, vegetables, carbs, proteins…in order to feel healthy, our soul also needs the right amount of spirituality in order to feel alive and connected to God.
Rabbi Shimon teaches us that speaking Torah at our meals reminds us that the Torah should be the goal of our life, and not the food! As Rav Binny explains, if we are eating a hamburger just for the sake of the taste of the hamburger… essentially we are just eating dead animals (Zivchey Metim)! But if we eat our food with the intention of channeling the energy the food provides us to bring Torah and light to the world, we are elevating our food to the level of a sacrifice before Hashem! Speaking Torah at our meals is there to remind us of that.
My wife and I have a friend named Esther who was a hidden Jew in India. They couldn’t practice Judaism openly, but there was one practice her family would do which kept their Judaism vibrant. Every morning before they ate their meal they would stop and do the following:
- Remind themselves of the Passuk spoken when the Jewish people received the Manna that (Devarim 3:8) “Not by bread alone does man live, but by what proceeds from the Lord”.
- Before the food arrived at the table they would ask God for their daily portion of Manna.
- Ask for the humility to hear God’s word.
- Learn a piece from the Torah and try to decipher the message God was sharing with them.
- Ask themselves if there was anything about themselves they hade to change.
- Bless, bringing down blessing to all of Am Yisrael.
Wow! What a beautiful custom.
I know many of us have been searching for ways to support our brothers on the front lines. Personally I have been searching for a way to strengthen myself for the sake of my brothers. Trying to more consistently speak Torah at meals is a simple, but powerful idea.
When I was in the army, I never had a special gun to carry, besides the regular M16. My job was to bring a washing cup and a Dvar Torah to each meal. Sometimes we’d have three minutes to eat our tuna, but we’d always squeeze in some Torah.
And so, personally I am taking upon myself, bli neder, to be stronger in this mitzvah of bringing Torah to my meals. I invite you to join me! Infact, I will be transcribing food-related meditations, explanations and Halachot, which can be learned and shared at your tables. If you’re interested in receiving them, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org).
All of Am Yisrael are connected, and so when do mitzvot with the intentions of sending that energy out to protect our friends, we can achieve amazing results. Missing you guys and thinking of our brother’s on the battlefield.