A Very Special Guest for Dinner

The WORD – 4/25/13.  It’s softball season again. In our house, that means that at least once a week we are in the bleachers for dinner.  And that’s exactly where we were last night.

In an attempt to preserve some semblance of a family dinner, Jodi and I do our best to get everything prepared ahead of time, pack the food up carefully and bring everything with us to the game.  We could probably figure out a way to eat in shifts at home that would be a lot less work.  But, there’s something fun about all eating together under crazy circumstances.

In the 15+ years that Jodi and I have been parents, we have really made it a priority to have dinner together as a family as often as possible.  We had no idea what organized sports would do to us when we made that commitment all those years ago.  But, we also believe that family meals strengthen and preserve familial relationships.

I was thinking about all of this as I turned to this week’s Torah portion.  Sharing food as a means of creating and maintaining a special relationship goes back a long, long way in our tradition.  Consider the following passage from our Torah Portion:

“They [i.e., the priests] shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the Lord’s offerings by fire, the food of their God, and so must be holy (Leviticus 21:6).”

We often look down our noses at the concept of sacrifices.  We are secretly – or perhaps not so secretly – grateful that the Temple no longer exists because we cannot imagine having to kill animals in order to worship God.  However, animal sacrifice was really an attempt to share a meal with God.  When our ancestors offered a sacrifice, part went to God, part to the Kohen and part to the individual.  It was an attempt to be in a relationship with God.

We no longer share meals with God in the same way as our ancestors.  However, we have other means to the same end.

We might say b’rachot – or prayers – at the beginning and end of our meals. We can recite Kiddush over wine, Hamotzi over bread and Birkat Hamazon when we are done eating.  These are all ways to invite God to our table.

We mark our most special occasions by breaking bread and invoking God’s name.  It is called a Se’udat Mitzvah and we do this at  weddings, B’nai Mitzvah and birth celebrations.  Food is also a major component of our mourning rituals.

Further, we can invite God to our table through the words we speak.    In Pirke Avot 3:4, Rabbi Shimon taught: “Three who dine at a table and exchange words of Torah are considered as having eaten at God’s table as it is written in Ezekiel 41:22: “And God spoke to me: This is the Table before Adonai.”  We, too,  can transform our table into God’s table by talking about the issues of the day and teaching moral lessons between bites.

Ideally, we would do this every time we break bread, however in today’s world of fast food, meals in the car and dinner in the bleachers, it is not realistic.  It is realistic, however, to say that we can do this at least once a week.  That once a week should be Shabbat.  It is not unreasonable for us to try and set aside Shabbat dinner as a time when we can be together with our families and together with God.

If you are not sure how to go about transforming your Friday night dinner into a Shabbat dinner, please be in touch with me or the Cantor.  We’d love to help.

Shalom,
RAF.

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About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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