It simply wasn’t done.
The Kiddush was fully prepared. The Shabbat morning service was complete, and the congregation had already entered the social hall, prepared to fress. The cookies and mini-muffins were already loaded on trays and laid out on the tables. The gefilte fish balls—each speared with its own individual wooden toothpick—were primed and at the ready. You could smell the chulent and the potato kugel. There were even Swedish meatballs, basking in succulent gravy. All the rabbi had to do was recite the Kiddush over a glass of grape juice, step back, and let those assembled go to work.
Rabbi Aronson cleared his throat as if to follow the Kiddush protocol, and then he did the unconscionable.
“Rabbosai, I have something I need to say.”
Someone actually gasped. The murmur from the crowd was polite but audible. It might have been worse, but Rabbi Aronson had been the Rabbi at Beit Tefilla for over thirty-five years, and had earned the respect of the crowd, although how long he had before someone started throwing fruit (from the delicious platter donated by the Sisterhood) was anyone’s guess.
“I look around this room, and I don’t like what I see. Look over at the children’s table.”
The kehila looked over at the dais set with the cookies, chips, and candy.
“What do you see?”
It probably wasn’t clear to everyone, but to most the rabbi’s point was obvious. The children had their hands poised over the trays, waiting for the bracha so that they could scoop the most possible food. Foraging was the best word to describe the scene, like watching an episode of Animal Planet. Some of them were boxing out their friends like it was the NBA Finals. It was not a pretty scene.
“And I know the adults in the room aren’t acting exactly the same way, but some of us are pretty close.”
A few congregants backed subtly away from the tables.
“Heck, I suppose I’m the same way on a week someone springs for sushi.”
Everyone laughed uncomfortably.
“The fact is, I think we need to reassess our Kiddush etiquette.”
Rabbi Aronson looked around the room to see if he had everyone’s attention. No one was clutching fruit in a threatening way, so he went on.
“In this week’s parsha we learn about the manna. G-d says to Moshe: Hinini mamtir lachem lechem min hashamayim veyatsa ha-am velaktu devar yom beyomo lema-an anasenu hayelech bitorati im lo. Behold, I will rain down for you food from heaven; let the people go out and pick each day’s portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow my teaching or not.
“The obvious question that comes up on this pasuk is, what was G-d’s test? How was He testing the Israelites?
“Rashi suggests one of the most popular answers. G-d wanted to see if they could follow the laws that He established related to manna. You can’t leave any over for the next day, and you must collect double on Friday for Shabbat. There are actually a few good answers suggested by the commentators.
“To me, the test G-d offers is obvious. The Israelites just left Egypt, where they were slaves, and they have six weeks until they receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. G-d wants to see if they can evolve. Can each Jew take just as much manna as they need?
“When the manna arrives, Moshe tells the people of Israel to take: ish lefi achlo, each man according to what he eats. After suffering the hardships of slavery, where food was certainly not plenty, can they learn to take just as much manna as they need and no more? Can they make sure there’s enough for everyone? That is one of the first lessons the Jews need to learn as a civilization to move toward the revelation at Sinai, personal responsibility one for another.
“I’m going to make Kiddush now, but as I do, I would like to personally request that we all reset our Kiddush-mode. Let’s behave responsibly, ish lefi achlo.”
And so, Rabbi Aronson recited the Kiddush, and the kehila ate at a slower pace. There was a little less grabbing, and a few less extended elbows in the crowd.
And at the end of the Kiddush, when the Men’s club members went to clean up the tables, the chulent was gone, but one lone piece of potato kugel remained in one of the tin pans. That was definitely considered progress.
Loosely based on a lecture by Rabbi Menachem Leibtag on Omer and Manna