Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 16 March 2024 / 6 Adar Bet 5784

Birkat Hamazon: Blueprint of Jewish Destiny (Part 17)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“Anyone who recites Birkat HaMazon is blessed through it.”

(Zohar HaKadosh to ParshatTerumah)

The requests continue: The Compassionate One, may He send us abundant blessing to this house and to this table that we have eaten upon.

Why does the request for an abundant blessing make mention of both our house and also the table that we ate on? What singles out the dining room table from any other piece of furniture in the home? The Talmud teaches (Brachot 55a) that the mizbeyach [altar] in the Holy Temple would atone for the sins of the Jewish Nation. However, since the loss of the mizbeyach and the destruction of the Temple it is our dining room tables that atone for us. Because it is to our Shabbat and Yom Tov tables that we invite those in need. Our dining room tables give testimony, as it were, to our openhearted and openhanded generosity. And by doing so, our sins are atoned, just as they were on the mizbeyach. In fact, Rabbeinu Asher ben Yechiel (1250-1327), known as the Rosh, writes that in his era the wealthier Jews of Provence, France had a custom to have their coffins made out of their dining room tables. It is as if they wanted their dining room tables to accompany them on their final journey to bear witness to all of the chasadim that they performed in this world!

Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Willowsky (1845-1913), known by his acronym Ridvaz (Rabbi Yaakov Dovid ben Zeev), was the brilliantly erudite Chief Rabbi of Slutzk, Belarus. In 1905 he settled in Israel serving as the Chief Rabbi of Tzefat where he opened and headed a Yeshivah named Torat Eretz Yisrael. The Ridvaz is famous among other things for his commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud.

The Ridvaz recounted that once, while still in Slutzk, he was so sick that the doctors gave up all hope and despaired for his life. As he was lying on his deathbed he had a dream. In his dream the Ridvaz saw the Heavenly Tribunal debating whether he had enough merits to allow him to continue living in the physical realms. After a lengthy deliberation, the court ruled that there was no alternative and he must leave this world.

The Ridvaz saw himself pleading before the celestial court, “I didn't finish writing my commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud. If I die it will never be finished and it will never be printed.” The court told him that another scholar would finish the commentary and print it. Then the Ridvaz said, “But I support many widows and orphans. What will be with them if I die? Let me live, so I can help them.” The court replied, “It is true that your support of widows and orphans is truly beloved by the Father of all widows and orphans, but if two members of the community take on your responsibilities they will be able to carry out your holy work just as you do. You, however, must leave the world.” Finally, the Ridvaz told them, “In our home, the tablecloth is on the table in honor of Shabbat on Thursday night and we always bring in Shabbat earlier than the regular time” (what is called Tosefet Shabbat).” When the presiding angels heard that they replied, “In this merit, you will live many more years.”

According to the Ridvaz’s own words it was his dining room table and his care in adding to Shabbat that saved him from the ultimate judgment of being taken from this world! Afterwards the Ridvaz lived a long and spiritually fulfilled life. Among all of his other tremendous accomplishments, he successfully completed two brilliant and indispensable commentaries on the Jerusalem Talmud – Chidushei Ridvaz and Tosfot haRid – which are now printed alongside the Talmud as standard additions.

We ask Hashem to send us an “abundant blessing to this house and to this table that we have eaten upon” because, possibly even more than our homes, it is our tables that testify to the intensity and the purity of our connection to Hashem.

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