The traditional Friday night meal for the Jewish Sabbath is a relaxing one. All that has passed during the week is put aside. A deadline missed, a bill not paid, emails not answered, an assignment not finished. Suddenly, at about 4:00 Jerusalem time (note: the time is linked to sundown and changes each week)…it fades away as you light the candles and welcome this brief period of peace. Family time. Close the door and tell the world to just go away time. The meal reflects the mood. It is served slowly, course after course, in the nicest dishes we own, at the dining room table and not in the kitchen.
The table is set hours before, the house cleaned, the family showered and dressed nicely. The meal varies from week to week, but there are certain “givens.” My husband loves soup. He eats it at both meals on Shabbat and on those few occasions where I don’t make it, I can tell he misses it. But first, we often start the meal with fish (either the traditional gefilte fish or a nice salmon loaf that I make) and salads. This week, it was the salmon loaf with sauteed mushrooms and onions and sauce. Everyone loves it.
If I serve soup after the fish, most people are too stuffed to eat the main course offerings. So sometimes, I hesitate and consider skipping the soup. For some reason, this week felt like one of those times. I took a quick poll. My youngest daughter wasn’t interested and I was seriously thinking of skipping it for myself as well. Elie and his middle brother most often skip the soup because they are meat-eaters of the highest quality. My daughter and her husband were eating at his parents’ house nearby. My youngest son was away with his school. That left five at the table, four of whom would most happily move to the chicken and rice portion of the meal.
I asked my husband and though he said it was fine with him to skip the soup, I could tell that he would have preferred to have a bowl. I thought of serving him a bowl alone, while also bringing out the rest of the food. He said that was fine. He’d rather have the soup. I went to serve him a bowl, while considering what was more comfortable – having four people sit at the table not eating, or bringing out the food and have it begin to get cold on the table.
“I’ll have a bowl,” Elie said as he got up to help me serve.
And in that moment, I was so proud of him. He is the first to skip soup on a regular basis. Why drink water when you can eat chicken, is a major philosophical question for him. And yet he did not want his father to sit there and eat alone or be left behind. As his middle brother took his father the bowl of soup I’d prepared, I asked Elie again, “are you sure you want soup?”
“I don’t want Abba to eat alone.” I thought of having a bowl of soup, too, but thought it would diminish what Elie was doing in some way and so, we sat at the table and talked as Elie and his father had their soup.
This was not a great sacrifice, not anything he learned in the army, per se. Mainly, it was yet another sign of maturity and an ability to look and think of others. Elie took his bowl of soup, a small one, and ate every drop of it. And I was so incredibly proud. Ridiculously proud.