When it comes to the glue that holds families together, the Yom Tov of Sukkos is a veritable goldmine. Unquestionably, if you ask a well-adjusted adult what his fondest and warmest memories are, some of those ranking at the top will be Yomim Tovim spent with family. It may be a Seder night, sitting in the sukkah singing Yom Tov songs, or even building the sukkah with a father or siblings. It might even be decorating the sukkah. Whatever it is, there is something intangibly special about spending joyous times in the cocoon of a loving family. A roller coaster ride may give more of an immediate rush, but when it comes to standing the test of time, family occasions rank high up among the deepest, most meaningful times together.
Now, some might be thinking, “Families together? All they do is fight. A Shabbos or Yom Tov seudah can sometimes be an ordeal. No one sits still… The older children and younger children have different needs, and it just doesn’t work.”
Truthfully, it can only work if one invests effort into preparing for a seudah. In addition, it is very helpful to set the tone for Shabbos and especially Yom Tov seudos when the children are young.
Let’s face it. In today’s world, one must make life geshmak and enjoyable for children (and adults). The Shabbos meal is no different. Without a doubt, making a seudah geshmak and the atmosphere pleasanttakes preparation. Parents should have stories prepared and their divrei Torah should be relevant to the children, preferably participatory, piquing their curiosity and drawing them into it. Of course, one cannot underscore enough the geshmak of singing together, their songs, your songs, any songs, preferably upbeat, happy niggunim. And last, but not least, food. Good food. Not necessarily fancy, but plentiful, and things that they like.
There is so much out there competing for the attention of our children that it is imperative when they are young to infuse them with satisfaction in the geshmake things in a family setting. In this way, they will be better anchored when life starts throwing them the manifold nisyonos that are out there.
All of this is clearly outlined in the holy words of Chazal. TheGemara (Sanhedrin 103) tells us, “Gedolah legimah shemekareves es harechokim – Great is eating and drinking together, for it brings close those who are far.” In a different place it states “mekarev levavos – it brings close the hearts.”
If one wants to realize the power of eating together, one just has to look at what Chazal tell us about the meisis umeidiach. The meisis is someone who convinces another person to engage in idolatry. The posuk in Parshas Shoftim states, “Ki yesischah – If someone entices you [to serve idols].” Chazal tell us that enticement can only be accomplished through eating and drinking. This means that one is not liable for enticing unless he entices while giving the person to eat and drink. Chazal are teaching us a profound, deep lesson: The heart is opened when one is eating and drinking. There is a degree of absorption of lessons, both good and, chas v’sholom, bad, that can only take place over a meal. Lessons that enter one’s penimius, one’s psyche, together with food and drink in the atmosphere of a meal can be more potent and better absorbed.
The aphorism, “Families that eat together stick together,” just echoes the timeless wisdom of Chazal and the Torah itself.
Certainly, in today’s extraordinary times, nothing is foolproof. The yeitzer horas out there will sometimes defy all odds. A person can do everything right and still find his ability to be mechanech his children challenged by the ruach she’eino metzuyah out there.
There is a story of a heartbroken chossid who once came to the Gerer Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Mordechai Alter, author of the sefer Imrei Emes. Tragedy had befallen his family. His son had forsaken a life of Torah, stopped keeping Shabbos, and completely discarded observance of mitzvos.
During the three decades before the onset of Hitler’s churban of Europe, the Haskallah, Nationalism, Zionism, Socialism and Communism wreaked havoc on the youth. Young men and women were abandoning Torah and mitzvos at such an alarming rate that it was nearly impossible to say, “Ein bayis asher ein shom meis,” that there was no home that had not been plagued with the tragedy of one of its members leaving the fold.
With unabashed tears, the chossid cried out to the Rebbe, “There is a well-known maxim that says, ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ If my son has so spuriously rejected Hashem and his Torah, what does that say about me?”
The Rebbe replied, “That which the world says, ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ is only true when a normal wind is blowing outside. However, when a gale force, hurricane-type wind is blowing, the apple can indeed fall far – very far – from the tree.”
That being said, we would be foolish to squander the unique opportunity that Hashem is placing in our hands this Yom Tov. An entire Yom Tov. So many seudos together, so many days of Chol Hamoed to be spent with family. On Chol Hamoed, there is also an obligation to eat seudos. Why not try to eat at least one seudah each day of Chol Hamoed together as a family? Don’t worry if your neighbors think you are crazy when you sing something together at a Chol Hamoed seudah. Do it anyway.
Yes, going on Chol Hamoed trips together is another amazing way to develop the emotional geshmak of Yiddishkeit. Even teenagers can enjoy a trip with the whole family, if they allow themselves to relax and enjoy it.
Finding a geshmak in events spent with family, especially if they revolve around mitzvos, will create lifelong memories and infuse children with a sense of security, a love of Yiddishkeit, and a sense of anticipation for Yom Tov. It will give Yom Tov a tzurah, a character. A seudas Yom Tov or Shabbos will not just be a meal to be eaten quickly and gotten over with, but rather an experience of unhurried family time, shmoozing together without looking at the clock, singing, and just being together.
It takes some effort at first to develop the right atmosphere. Every family has to find the formula that works for them, but, undoubtedly, if a person follows the timeless lessons of Chazal – “Gedolah legimah shemekareves es halevavos,” that the heart is opened when one is eating and drinking – he will certainly place himself on the path of geshmak and taanug ruchani, enjoyment and pleasure, spiritual pleasure, both in this world and in the next.