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Reciting Divrei Torah at the Shabbos Table
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Chicago Community Kollel Interactive Parenting Column #8

Rabbi Horowitz,

Thank you for providing this excellent forum.

My 18-year-old son has a passion for music. Despite the fact that he was, BH, blessed with a quick, sharp mind, he unfortunately has not (as of yet) developed a cheishek or love for learning.

My question is, he really dislikes preparing or giving over a dvar Torah at the Shabbos table, when he is at home bein hazmanim. He will sometimes prepare something, which is always a big favor and done as a chore. When he does give over something at the table, he stammers throughout (he does not, as a rule, stammer at any other time).

What do I do? Do I stop expecting any dvar Torah from him, and just let him be, or do I try and get him to participate at the table? We are constantly working with him, trying to develop his learning, but it's tough going. We are hoping the next z’man, which he will be starting in a new Yeshiva, will help. Any suggestions?

A Concerned Mother.

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Dear ‘Concerned’:

Upon analysis, there are three diverse and distinct issues that you touched upon in your brief note.

  1. Your son’s passion for music
  2. His lack of success in learning (to this point).
  3. Your question regarding the d’var Torah at the Shabbos table.

I found it quite interesting that you mentioned your son's appreciation for music in the context of your question regarding the reciting of divrei Torah at the Shabbos table. I assume that you were expressing your frustration that he is passionate about his music – but not his learning.

Well, as I see it, passion is a wonderful emotion. Passion is the engine of our neshamos, the fuel that drives our hearts. If fact, the things most people are passionate about – in the spiritual realm or otherwise – are generally part of the hard drive of our innate nature. Nourishing those parts of our souls (provided that these wants and needs are appropriate for a Torah Jew and not harmful to body or soul) makes us healthier, happier and more effective people.

You ought to be pleased that he is passionate about something; anything. I would be much more concerned if you wrote that he doesn’t seem to care about anything at all.

So; my first piece of advice to you would be for you to get your son a musical instrument or music lessons. Honestly. I can virtually assure you that you will have a happier son as a result of your investment. And, in all likelihood, one who is more likely to develop an appreciation for learning as his simchas hachayim increases. I will be addressing the broader issue of hobbies and lack of success in learning in future columns, as the Chicago Community Kollel Parenting Forum received a significant number of questions about these matters.

Shabbos Table

As for your son’s participation at the Shabbos table, I would strongly suggest that you do not ask him to share a dvar Torah with your family at the Shabbos table. Stammering is a clear indication that the individual is under stress. Why would you want to evoke that level of discomfort in your son when he is home relaxing after a long week?

Shabbos tables are not intended to be classrooms. They are, or should be, warm family gatherings. Read through the zemiros of Shabbos. They speak of kedushah and spiritual rejuvenation. They also mention good food and drink, ta’anug and menucha (loosely translated as enjoyment and tranquility). Not sweaty palms and resentment at doing things that are “a big favor” and “a chore”. It would be nice if your son enjoyed delivering a dvar Torah to the family, and the time may come when that will happen. But for now, I give you a resounding vote for just leaving him alone to enjoy the company of his family.

I would also suggest that you review your “mission statement” for the limited amount of time that your son spends with you. (I assume that he is in a dormitory setting, as you noted that he is [only] at home bein hazmanim). Especially if that is the case, you would be well served to see to it that his time at home is enjoyable and nurturing. Spend your time talking … and listening. Prepare his favorite foods. Spoil him a bit.

I would most certainly suggest that you learn with him when he is home for Shabbos – provided that the learning time is enjoyable time spent together. And most certainly not at the Shabbos table, if that makes him uncomfortable. Don’t farher (test) him. Allow him the opportunity to share his successes with you.

I respectfully suggest that you stop “constantly working with him, trying to develop his learning” and spend more time strengthening your bond with him. His Roshei Yeshiva are more than capable of “developing his learning.” Always keep in mind that anyone can teach your son Torah. But he only has two parents. Your relationship with him during these adolescent years is so very critical. Please don’t erode it.

You want him to love learning. Well, leave the learning to his rebbeim. You just take care of the love part.

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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