“I’m sitting next to Mommy!”
“No, I am! It’s my turn—you sat there last week!”
You wearily try to break up the fight at the table while your husband just as wearily tries to sing “Shalom Aleichem.” No one else joins in.
Then the next fight starts. “Eew, someone put gefilte fish on my plate! I don’t like gefilte fish!”
And on and on, as you think to yourself, How much longer until bentching time?
Sounds familiar? I thought so. Because all too often, the beautiful Shabbos seudah we try so hard to conduct just slips out of our grasp, amid all the chaos and fighting and seat-finding and guest-small-talking going on around us…
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Could such a thing really be? Read the book, and then you can answer the question yourself!
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Below is an excerpt from this handy—and very helpful—little book:
WHAT TO DO AT THE TABLE
Keeping everyone’s interest at the table is extremely challenging, especially when there are children and teens of different ages. The goal is to have some sort of interaction which is Torah-based, but achieving that is not always so easy. Discussing the parshah may interest some and not others. Often the ideas presented may bore the people at the table. Telling stories is good, but you may not always know a story, or the ones you do know are already familiar to the audience. There is also the disadvantage that stories do not necessarily lead to conversations which everyone can be involved in.
What I have found to be the best of all worlds is to present an interesting and provocative halachic she’eilah which grabs everyone’s attention, and then leads effortlessly to enthusiastic discussion.
Here are two examples of she’eilos:
(1) A cab driver in Israel was given a Coke by a passenger. It turned out to be drugged. The cabby slept for twenty minutes and awoke to find that he had been robbed. He called a posek to find out if he has to make a Borei Nefashos on the drink, his dilemma stemming from the fact that had he known the drink was drugged he’d not have drunk it in the first place. (The answer was that he did have to make a Borei Nefashos.)
(2) A man wanted to take a bus from Bnei Brak to Yerushalayim. When he opened the baggage compartment to store his suitcase, he found it was full. In order to make room, he climbed into the compartment to rearrange the baggage. The driver, unaware that the man was in the baggage hold, closed the door and drove to Yerushalayim. The man endured a very uncomfortable ride but emerged unharmed. The she’eilah was whether or not he has to pay for the trip. (The answer was no.)
These types of she’eilos generate interest in people of all ages. Even youngsters and those with limited Torah knowledge will offer opinions and feel part of the conversation. A stimulating discussion, which often opens up other areas of Torah ideas, then follows. This is a particularly efficient method of getting normally apathetic teens involved. It carries the further benefit of demonstrating to teens, who for whatever reason have found little interest in Torah, that Torah can actually be quite exciting.
These types of she’eilos can be found by the hundreds in various sources. The Aleinu L’shabei’ach and the Barchi Nafshi series contain hundreds of contemporary she’eilos that have been presented to Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein shlit”a. There is a series called Veha’arev Na, which also presents dozens of she’eilos that have been dealt with by contemporary poskim. Mishpitei HaTorah by Harav Zvi Shpitz shlit”a presents many fascinating questions in the area of monetary law. The Igros Moshe by Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, as well as all other she’eilos and teshuvah sefarim by the poskim throughout the ages, are also a virtually endless source for these sorts of she’eilos.
Be sure to point out that there may be differing opinions among poskim regarding the final psak. Remember, the main goal is not to teach the halachah―it’s to engage the family in a practical Torahdik discussion. The side benefit is that a lot of halachah gets learned along the way.
The father will have to invest some time into looking for the types of she’eilos that will interest his family. It is wise to keep some sort of notebook or file and accumulate a collection. Remember, she’eilos could be asked more than once. People at the table sometimes enjoy the fact that they remember the answers to questions that have been presented and discussed in the past.
Similarly, if you discuss the parshah, the ideal way to do so is also by throwing out a question, as opposed to saying a vort or sharing a thought. This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for that as well―it’s just that for the sake of what you’re trying to accomplish, the question approach is more effective.