The Taste of a Shabbat Meal by Rabbi Yoni Mandelstam


Parashat Yitro most famously recounts Bnei Yisrael’s arrival at Har Sinai and the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot. The Torah states, “Zachor Et Yom HaShabbat LeKadsho,” “Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it” (Shemot 20:8). By far the most hectic yet enjoyable part of every Shabbat are the meals that we have. The Shabbat meal is a gathering of family and friends which allows us to appreciate what we have, and some of life’s most precious memories are created at the Shabbat table. In fact, there are Jews who have been inspired to do Teshuvah and transform their entire approach to Judaism simply because of one Shabbat meal. The Rama (Orach Chaim 290:2) even states that a Talmid Chacham should specifically partake in more food and drink on Shabbat in light of the fact that he does not eat as much during the week. Yet, we know that there is something less than ideal about indulging in food. We certainly do not aspire to eat more than three meals each day. Therefore, it is important to explore the nature of the Shabbat meal and examine exactly what makes it so holy.

I would like to highlight two factors which distinguish the Shabbat Seudah from the weekday meal. The first is the absence of the weekday mayhem. This idea can be extracted from the following story told in the Midrash Rabbah (BeReishit Rabbah 11:4): “Rabi prepared a Shabbat meal for the Caesar, and, despite the fact that the food was cold, the Caesar enjoyed the meal immensely. Yet, when Rabi later prepared the same dish for the Caesar during the week, the Caesar sensed that the food was lacking something. Rabi explained that although no changes were made to the recipe, the missing ingredient was Shabbat.”

The Midrash is clearly teaching us that there is more to the Shabbat meal than the mere taste of the food. Rather, Shabbat itself serves as a key ingredient. We can all relate to the frustration of rushing through a meal during the week. To highlight this point, Bob Stahl, an expert in meditation and relaxation, likes to tell a story about one of his students. The student did not enjoy an entire box of raisins when he rushed through his snack. However, when he took the time to slowly enjoy a raisin or two, the student felt that those few raisins tasted better than an entire box of raisins when eaten too quickly.

A second aspect of the Shabbat meal which elevates its nature beyond the standard weekday meal is that we eat the meal within a spiritual context, which is accomplished by the recitation of Kiddush. Chazal (Berachot 20b) derive the Mitzvah DeOraita of Kiddush from the word Zachor stated in this week’s Parashah. As opposed to jumping right into our first course, we first acknowledge that Hashem created the world, and we specifically eat our meal as a form of celebrating God’s creations. Interestingly, the Ramban (ad loc. s.v. Zachor Et Yom HaShabbat LeKadsho) understands this Pasuk as not only referring to sanctifying our meals, but as a specific reference to our need to approach Shabbat as a whole with a sense of holiness. Specifically, the Ramban elaborates on the fact that Shabbat is a day to take our minds off of work and tap into a more spiritual existence. In other words, just as we are to approach the meals with a sense of “Kiddush” and sanctity, Shabbat as a whole should be spent with meaningful activities beyond the meals. Because of our focused spiritual goals, there is something which simply feels “right” about the Shabbat meal.

Perhaps this second aspect of the Shabbat meal represents the theme of Tu BiShevat. Tu BiShevat is not a day that we celebrate the taste of the fruits but rather the roots of newly sprouting trees. We look into the source of our fruit, and acknowledge that our fruit come from Hashem. We are inspired by Hashem’s masterpiece we call nature. The Shabbat meals as well as Tu BiShevat serve as good reminders that even something as basic as eating can be elevated when approached with the proper perspective. Judaism encourages us to eat towards a spiritual goal as opposed towards a full stomach. It is therefore up to us to add that special ingredient of “Shabbat” to our meals each week.

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