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Make Family Dinners Great Again

Friday, 19 November, 2021 - 10:25 am

Dinner conversations are a big deal. Even with delicious food and the perfect ambiance, awful table chatter will ruin the evening. Often one can choose whom to have dinner with, but certain occasions bring people together with relatives with whom they share nothing aside from genetics. Hence, Passover Seder and Thanksgiving dinner jokes abound, poking fun at generation gaps or political and cultural divides.

Unfortunately this is no laughing matter since many family once-a-year reunions devolve into chaos that could have been avoided. Eating in silence is not a solution either and it would be a shame for families to stop seeing each other, so what can be done to make family dinners more enjoyable and pleasant?

Here is a quote from Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers (3:3): Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices… But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G‑d's table.

At first blush it seems counterintuitive to discuss Torah during meal time. How can the mind focus on deep theological and spiritual concepts while enjoying brisket, turkey and fine wine? However, Torah is not limited to the abstract. It's the blueprint of creation and a guide to every aspect of life.

Dining with friends and family loosens us up and the dinner table can become the source of conflict or friendship. When we choose to share words of Torah at such a pivotal moment, we include G-d in the conversation, and the dinner table becomes a catalyst for unity and peace. No need for lengthy lectures. Even a short message can do the trick.

So here is something you can share at Thanksgiving dinner. When our patriarch Yaakov returned to the Land of Israel, his brother Eisav marched towards him with 400 mercenaries to destroy him. The frightened Yaakov prefaced his prayer to G-d like this. “I have become small and inadequate from the tremendous kindness You have done for me. I fled from this land as a destitute refugee with only a wooden staff to call mine, and now I am returning with a large family and tremendous wealth.”

Although G-d promised Yaakov he would survive any trouble he encountered, his tremendous success made him feel unworthy of G-d’s protection and blessing. Instead of taking credit for making it in life, he acknowledged that everything he had was a blessing from G-d and felt that he should have been more dedicated to G-d’s service than he already was.

Yaakov teaches us the Jewish ethic of giving thanks. It’s not just the polite thing to do; it’s the realization that I ought to grow in my sensitivity to others and intensify my dedication to fulfilling my true purpose in life. To channel all my success to make this world a better place by increasing Torah study, mitzvah observance and giving charity and inspiring others to do the same.

Enjoy dinner!



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