Our Table | Welcome to Our Shabbos Table
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parshas Vayera/ Same Difference
“And an angel of God called to [Avraham] from heaven and said, ‘Avraham! Avraham!’” (Bereishis
At the Akeidah, when Avraham was about to slaughter his son Yitzchak, an angel called out to stop him.
On the face of it, the repetition of Avraham’s name simply indicates the urgency of the moment, just as when Hashem called out, “Yaakov! Yaakov!” (Bereishis 46:2), reassuring the patriarch regarding his descent to Egypt to begin our long exile there, and “Shmuel! Shmuel!” (I Shmuel 3:10), after young Shmuel had failed to realize he was receiving his first prophecy. The Zohar, however, detects a much deeper message.
Before and After
A “pesik ta’ama” (a type of cantillation note) here requires the reader to pause between the first and second mentions of Avraham’s name. What do this repetition and pause symbolize?
The first “Avraham” refers to an incomplete Avraham, having not yet passed all ten of Hashem’s tests of faith (Avos 5:3). The “second” Avraham refers to a complete Avraham, having just successfully faced the greatest challenge of all, the Akeidah. The pause between them accentuates that these are two different, critical aspects of Avraham, not merely an insignificant repetition of his name-.
By passing the tenth test, Avraham became the ideal version of himself that existed in heaven. He’d fulfilled his potential, his destiny. “Avraham! Avraham!” therefore makes the remarkable statement that “the Avraham below now equaled the Avraham above” (Zohar, HaIdra Rabba 3, Naso 138a; Or Gedalyahu, Moadim, p. 4).
Above and Below
Each of us exists on two planes as well – “above,” in heaven, and “below,” on earth. “Above” is our potential, which we must strive to actualize while we’re “below,” in this world.
Though this task may be daunting, it helps to remember that every person’s potential is unique. As the Chassidic master Reb Zusha of Anipoli cried on his deathbed: “I’m not worried that I’ll be asked, ‘Why weren’t you Rambam, or Rashi, or Rabbi Akiva Eiger?’ I’mworried about being asked, ‘Why weren’t you Zusha? Why didn’t you fulfill your own potential?’”
The Gemara (Yoma 20b) says that prior to death, the neshamah emits a scream that is heard from one end of the world to the other. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin explains that before one passes from this world, Hashem shows him what he could have been had he maximized his capabilities. Then Hashem contrasts that to what he actually achieved. When the neshamah sees the chasm between these two images, it screams.
Our Day in Court
As a poignant example of how devastating this type of realization can be, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg shared the following true story with his Boca Raton congregation on Rosh HaShanah:
Forty-nine-year-old Arthur Booth had been arrested for breaking into a home, stealing a car, causing two accidents before crashing it, and resisting arrest.
During Booth’s bond hearing, Judge Mindy Glazer suddenly turned to him and asked, “Did you attend the Nautilus middle school?” Booth looked up at her, recognized her, then covered his face in shame and burst into tears.
“I’m sorry to see you here,” the judge told him. “I always wondered what became of you.” Glazer proceeded to address the court. “This was the nicest kid in school,” she explained. “I played football with him. But look what’s happened.”
Booth’s cousin later commented on his emotional reaction: “He probably was thinking, ‘Wow, I had all those opportunities and abilities. That should have been me up there…’ He was overwhelmed by what could have been.”
“This morning,” Rabbi Goldberg told his congregants, “we too appear before the Judge who recognizes us, who knows us since our childhood and beyond. Like Booth, as we stand before the Judge of Judges, we are overwhelmed by what could have been. Confronting our many mistakes, misjudgments, self-destructive behavior, and wasted opportunities, we are filled with profound remorse, intense regret, and an acute awareness of who we could be.”
Question for Discussion: Let’s not wait for Rosh HaShanah to take stock of our lives. What is something that’s stopping you from fulfilling your potential? How can you get over that hurdle?