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Monday, 16 October 2017

Can we offer sacrifices today?

Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 92

Our shul property is quite large and extraordinarily accessible to all.  While the shul building itself is under 24/7 security monitoring, anybody can enter the general grounds of the shul, pretty much at any time of the day or night.  The joke in the local community, amongst Jews and non-Jews alike, is that everyone in the neighbourhood first learned to drive at Beth Israel Synagogue!

One time, I arrived at the shul late at night and noticed some youths gathered in the corner of the parking lot on their bikes.  I drove my car up to where they were and motioned to them that they were on private property.  Frightened by my intrusion on their little rendezvous, they froze like a deer in the headlights.  Just then, a man emerged from the shadows and informed me that this was his fault and that they were innocent of any wrongdoing. 

Turns out, he was a homeless man living in the sandbox, which we use to melt the snow.  These kids had discovered the poor fellow and each night, they would bring him sandwiches.  He pleaded with me to let him stay put, because, “Rabbi, you can’t imagine how dangerous the homeless shelters are!”  After discussing the matter with the ‘powers that be,’ we ‘adopted’ the man and began bringing him leftovers from the Kiddush and other shul events.

Rabbi Elazar taught: Anyone who does not leave over bread on his table (following the meal) will never see a sign of blessing, as the verse (Job 20:21) states, “There is no remnant to his food, therefore his goods shall not prosper.”

When we reach the conclusion of our meal, our Sages instruct us to leave some of the uneaten bread on the table while we bentch.  The Levush explains that the presence of the leftovers improves our bentching experience.  Seeing the abundance of food reminds us that G-d has blessed us with His bounty and then some!  That should cause us to bentch with an even greater feeling of gratitude to Heaven. 

But of course, every time we connect with Hashem, we should strive to emulate Him.  Rashi says that we should always make sure that there are leftovers just in case a poor person shows up.  After all, we are blessing the Almighty for His provision of our needs; so too should we be ever-ready to provide for those less fortunate.  In fact, the Shelah teaches that our dinner table is like an altar and one who hosts poor people or sends them portions is considered as if he offered a sacrifice on his ‘altar’! 

Now let’s be honest.  I don’t know about you, but I have never left my pieces of bread on the table for bentching, and then suddenly had a knock on my door from a beggar wanting to eat my scraps!  That’s simply not the world we live in today.  But what’s interesting about the message of the Shelah is that you don’t have to wait for the poor people to show up at your door.  He teaches that you can just as well fulfil this dictum of our Sages by sending the portions to the poor!

So what are you going to do, start packaging your leftover challah pieces and head over to the inner city to find somebody who will eat your scraps?  Hardly.  But what you can do, each time you sit down to eat, is invite the poor to your altar by setting aside a couple of cans for the local foodbank.  Imagine how different your dining experience would be and the everlasting impression you would create for your children, if every meal ended with a gift of canned food to those less fortunate! 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to take it over straight away.  You could pile up the cans in a big box, and on Friday or Sunday, take a family trip to the foodbank – or even the collections bin at your local supermarket – to deliver your sacrificial portions.  Start doing it every time you sit down for supper, and I guarantee, all your relationships will be transformed immeasurably!  You will start to see the needy in a different, more sympathetic light.  Your interactions with your family members will reach a whole new plane of altruistic existence.  And your conversations with Heaven – when you bentch and daven – will take on a whole new level of meaning.

Let’s not eat just to fill our own bellies.  It’s time to bring back the sacrifices to your altar.  May you always include the less fortunate whenever you dine!