11 April 2013

A Conversation Around the Dinner Table

2 Iyyar 5773
17 Days of the Omer

Ten year old Yosef is swinging one foot aimlessly as he munches on his mother’s beet salad. He looks from one end of the table to the other, first at his father who is studiously parceling out portions of fish to each family member and then at his mother who is leaning back in her chair with a soft smile, clearly enjoying the sight that meets her eyes.

A Jewish mother is busy from sunrise to well after sunset with only a rare moment for contemplation. Dinnertime, after everyone is served, is one such moment. For a few precious minutes, she can gaze upon her many blessings and rejoice in all the good her Creator has done for her.

Dinner conversation flows around the table along with the meat and wine. When Yosef judged that the time was right, he cleared his throat and broached a subject that was as dear to his heart as it was unwelcome at his father’s table.

“Abba, my friend David says they are almost ready to go on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. Please, Abba, can’t we go, too?” A shadow passed over his father’s eyes and his mouth tightened ever so slightly as Yosef looked pleadingly to him. The boy was like a broken record. Ever since his best friend’s family had begun preparing to make aliyah, it seemed to occupy his every waking thought. He’d finally had to be stern with the boy and really set his foot down, reminding him of the fate of the tens of thousands of the tribe of Ephraim who had tried to leave Mitzrayim ahead of time. He thought he’d gotten through to him, but here he was again, marring the pleasure of his evening meal with his talk of aliyah.

“Son, that is not an appropriate subject for the dinner table. Let’s save that discussion for another time.”

“But, Abba…,” Yosef began again, His father impatiently cut him off and said with only partially restrained passion and heat.

“Son, do you know what is awaiting them in Eretz Yisrael? It is a place filled with impurity from the evil and wicked deeds that are done by the people who live there. And the ungodly regime that rules there is not one that shares our values.”

Yosef, stunned to silence, listened with eyes wide while his agile little mind was thinking to itself, “It doesn’t sound so very different from where we are living now.”

As his father seemed to struggle for another good reason why they should not mimic the actions of David’s family, his mother made a valiant attempt to boost his father’s argument.

“Yossi, look how many other friends you have right here in our own neighborhood and none of their families are making any plans to leave. Your father has made a good life for us here. It's not trouble-free, but we get along and we know what to expect. What would he do in Eretz Yisrael? How would we manage and who would look after Sabba and Savta if we moved so far away from them?”

Yosef’s seventeen year old sister chipped in, “I’ve heard people talking about how hard the life will be there." She gave a little shiver for effect and continued, “It’s truly scary.”

As if on cue, an ominous sound from outside broke into their conversation. It seemed to grow and spread from every direction. Everyone looked at everyone else and in a split second they were all rushing for the door, Abba in the lead. Neighbors were pouring from their homes into the streets to see the cause of the ruckus.

Suddenly, they saw it coming and what they saw left them rooted to their places, speechless and terrified. It was Adar of the year 2448 and what they were hearing was Mitzrayim succumbing to the plague of darkness.


  1. Would have thought that a kid like Yosef and pro-aliyah people otherwise trapped by family / etc would survive the plague of darkness in such a scenario, albeit at the cost of losing their loved ones in a manner similar to Lot losing his wife while fleeing Sodom.

  2. Who knows? Would it have helped him if he was living in Berlin in 1944? Then again, maybe the Shoah WAS a replay of the plague of darkness and there won't be another.

    Actually, the plague is not the point of the story. The point of the story is to demonstrate that these arguments are as much without foundation now as they would have been then.