Over the years, I’ve written a number of columns and lectured ‘early and often’ about the importance of parents having enjoyable, relaxed Shabbos meals with their children – and each other.In my years of dealing with countless families across the spectrum of Orthodox Jewry, I have found that far too many parents get caught up with the important ‘trees’ of their Shabbos tables (zemiros, divrei Torah, review of parsha sheets, etc.) and lose sight of the ‘forest’ (making their Shabbos meals something their children look forward to week after week).
In the frenzied pace of modern-day life, it is more important now than ever that we carve out time for our families to spend quality time together – to bond, talk, and to nurture the most important relationships that we form during our years in this world. I underlined the words ‘and each other’ in the previous paragraph to highlight my feeling that spouses also need the quality time that Shabbos affords – to develop the closeness that will result in Shalom Bayis that helps children thrive.
Recently, my chaver, Rabbi Naftali Eisgrau, who serves as the Menahel of Yeshiva Beis Hachinuch in Monsey, shared with me a remarkable story that he heard from Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum of Cleveland which brings home the ‘forest’ component of our Shabbos time with our families. As is the case with so many other facets of life, we often gain perspective and appreciation of the gifts that we all take for granted through the eyes of others.
I contacted Rabbi Nisenbaum and asked him to share his experience with our readers. Here is his narrative of the incident:
I run an adult education center in Cleveland, and I was asked to speak at a medical seminar for healthcare professionals about sensitivity to different cultures. I was on a panel with a representative of the Amish community and several other ‘faith-based’ leaders. I spoke for around 15 minutes about kashrus, Shabbos, and negiah. After my presentation, there was a question-and-answer session, during which a woman in the back of the room raised her hand and somewhat timidly inquired, "May I ask you a question unrelated to your talk?" I wasn't too surprised at the request, as people often stop me to ask about religious Jewish appearance and practices. But her question really threw me for a loop.
"I work at a clinic where several Orthodox Jewish families are serviced. How do your parents get their children to behave so nicely in the doctor's office?” she wanted to know. I was rather surprised, as I never really noticed Orthodox children acting so differently than other children, but I knew I had a 30 second- opportunity to make a kiddush Hashem. I thought quickly of how to respond, when a thought came to me.
"How many times a month does anyone here get a chance to eat an uninterrupted meal with your family?" I asked. Not one person among the crowd of over 70 people raised a hand. "How about in a year?" I followed. A few participants then spoke about Thanksgiving and other holiday meals, but quickly conceded that the ‘guys were running off to watch the football game’ or working their blackberries.
"Well, the Sabbath observant family gets that opportunity twice each week, Friday evening and Sabbath morning. The family eats a fancy meal together. No telephone interruptions, since we may not answer the phone on Shabbos. No computer games or TV shows, since those are also not permitted on Shabbos. No "I'll be a little late, as I have some more work to catch up on in the office," since we don't go to work on Shabbos. And no "Can we please hurry up, I have a tennis or golf game I promised to play," since we don't play those on Shabbos either.
Just the family together, enjoying each other's company over a good meal. There's really no choice but to talk to each other. I think that's what makes the Jewish family more connected, allowing the parents to have more influence on their children – which obviously carries over even to the doctor's waiting room."
I was amazed to see the heads of the participants nodding in sheepish agreement. I think that my words, with the help of Hashem, made a lasting impact on the audience. Please feel free to share this with your readers in the hope that it will enhance their appreciation of the wonderful gift that we have – our Shabbos.
Kol tuv and hatzlacha.
(Rabbi) Ephraim Nisenbaum
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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