When we put together a meal, for Shabbos or otherwise, what we’re really putting together is an expression of our deepest selves. It’s not only in the what – the food, but also in the how – the presentation, care and manner in which it is served – and the where – the environment in which the meal is taking place. Whatever we mean to convey, consciously or not, is there in our home for everyone present to contemplate and absorb.
It’s plain to see what type of physical lifestyle a person lives based on her cooking style i.e. healthy, dessert-heavy, vegetarian, etc. On some level you can also usually even tell how much time, energy, love etc. she has put into a meal. (I can smell an angry potato kugel from miles away.) But its more that.
Putting together a table of food, and a Shabbos table in particular, is an opportunity to transmit a message that, depending on who is present, can affect generations. What is my connection with my Jewish past, present and future? What is my attitude towards marriage and family and guests? What is my relationship with Shabbos, and what, accordingly is my relationship to Hashem? What do I want my guests to take away from this meal? And if we’re anyway sending out a message via a meal, it goes without saying that we want our message to be a good one.
If a psychoanalyst were to come and put together a profile of me, personally, based on my Shabbos table, I believe it would go something like this: Judging by the massive volume of food that Mrs. Cook puts out for Shabbos, it would appear as though she has what is known as “Jewish Mother Syndrome.” She feeds and she feeds, and yet she never feels that her guests have eaten enough…
Seriously though, I would hope that the food I serve says that I absolutely love what I do, that I deem it a great privilege to be able to host so many guests, that I enjoy cooking on a deep, metaphysical level, that I value my heritage and tradition whilst being grounded in the modern world and that I feel deeply connected to Shabbos, to Torah, to the Jewish People and to Hashem. Anyone who comes to my house is welcome to speak to me (or my husband) about the values that we hold sacred, and how living according to these values contributes to our happiness and sense of fulfillment in life.
For thousands of years the Shabbos table has underscored core Jewish statements to do with peace in the home, family, hosting guests and more. And for about two years now I have been trying to charge entry fee to our home for Shabbos lunch by way of a Jewish joke. Sadly, I have failed dismally in this endeavor. But that’s not the point. The point is that people know that when they join the Cook Family for a meal on Shabbos day, they will be greeted by happy faces, a warm vibe, and probably a joke or two. I have no doubt that this is what my great ancestors way back in the day were also hoping to accomplish (if not with Jewish jokes, then at least with cholent!).
What does your Shabbos table say about you? What kind of message are you transmitting each week to your family and guests? Or what have been some of your experiences as a guest? I would love to hear your thoughts…