In response to last week’s article in the newsletter, a parent asked if I could dedicate the newsletter this week to offer strategies for a healthy and more spiritual Shabbos meal. The strategies being offered are a compilation of ideas from my wife and me, my son Rabbi Yosef Scheinerman, and Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg, a parenting expert.
It is unfortunate that family meals are relegated to Shabbos, yet understandable that schedules and habits conflict, and weekday meals are not family oriented. Shabbos is a time when your family can not only connect and build relationships, but can also instill values, traditions, and habits that would otherwise be overshadowed by hectic daily routines. It is therefore of great importance that Shabbos is a positive experience for children (and adults), as these are the memories that will remain with them throughout their lives.
Creating and maintaining a positive spiritual atmosphere at the Shabbos table requires much planning and preparation. The more you can involve your children with the preparations, the greater chance that the children will stay at the table and be active participants.
Before you begin preparing for successful Shabbos seudos, you need to understand your specific challenges and try to work around them. For example, having children of various ages at the same table can be challenging. Below are some ideas to enhance your Seudas Shabbos:
- One secret is to give each child an opportunity to “own” the seudah. For example, allowing children when possible to help prepare the food or dessert. I receive pictures on occasion of my grandchildren, younger and older, baking cupcakes or challah for the seudah. If this is not possible, each child can select one special dish that he would like to have at the seudah. You would be amazed at what that can accomplish; when their kugel, salad, or dessert comes out to the table, each child is so excited.
- Review your expectations of your children and realistically gauge if they are reasonable. People can set themselves up for failure by demanding too much. Your Shabbos table may be an exciting place to be but expecting a nine-year-old to sit at the table for hours is simply unreasonable.
- The child’s place at the table is another crucial factor in successful seudos. On a weekly basis my son rotates his children at the meals so that each gets to sit next to Tatty in turn.
- Seating is particularly problematic when there are guests at the table. Make sure that your children are not relegated to seats at the end of the table. Charity begins at home – and this situation is no exception.
- Try to limit conversation at the table to “Shabbosdik.” If your meals become a review of the sports teams that excelled that week, this diminishes the kedushah of Shabbos. Obviously, you should find outlets for such discussion at a different time.
- Participation of children in zemiros requires buy-in by the children. Watch how they may respond to a Shabbos table with zemiros using songs that are more recent and sung by their favorite singers. This may also include songs not usually found in the zemiros book but reflect the songs that they like to sing. You can add one zemer that has sentimental value, as it was sung by your father, for example.
- Children love to share divrei Torah or parshah sheets that they bring home from school and they should be shared at the seudah on a rotation basis.
- Being at the Shabbos table should be a treat and punishing a child for leaving the table will just cause resentment. I encourage families – especially during longer Shabbosim – to have a Shabbos party with a special treat to enhance kedushas Shabbos. Their friends and Shabbos playdates will all love to participate.
- The Shabbos seudah is never the place to discuss behavior. Instead, find a quiet and peaceful time during the week and have a heart-to-heart discussion with your child. Just raise the issue and see how they respond. Be ready to listen to their concerns, issues, needs, and comments. You may end up agreeing with a child leaving the table after an hour. The worst thing you can do is to have an ongoing and continuous battle to get them to stay at the table for longer periods of time. Such conflicts will just leave them with a bitter taste of a Shabbos seudah and, chas v’sholom, with Shabbos as a whole.
- Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, addresses the Shabbos seudah challenge and gives very clear advice. Since children are really not able to sit at a table for an extended period of time, parents must realize that forcing a child to do so is completely counterproductive to their goal, which is creating a positive Shabbos experience for everyone. Rabbi Wolbe even gave a time frame: forty-five minutes, he says, is a reasonable amount of time for a young (he does not specify how old is young) child to stay at the table.
Please feel free to share with me if any of these ideas helped you to enhance your Shabbos meals.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman