June 17th, 2019


A guest at the table

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published August 13,2018

A guest at the table

The 3-year-old son of a rabbi who's visiting this obscure corner of the diaspora already stands tall and straight -- like the proper mensch he is becoming, complete with skullcap, earlocks and a black-and-white fringed garment in accordance with the biblical command.

Still shy, he holds on to his father's hand however unsteadily while soaking in every detail of his new surroundings. It occurs that only G od could have created a creature so equipped to learn, and even to join Him in creating a new and better world.

In accordance with Jewish law and lore, it is considered meritorious to have a guest for the festive sabbath meal, and this one fit the bill.

It was a blessing to have him at our table. And to have our own sense of wonder reflected and renewed through his all-absorbing senses: the taste of the sanctified wine, the aroma of the spices, the light of the sabbath candles, the music of the hymns and folk songs. All was right with the world, at least for this one magical moment. And a little child had led us to into it.

The words of the sabbath blessing summed up how thankful the grownups also present should have been for the little boy's being among them. "Have us rejoice, O Lord our G od, with Elijah the prophet, thine anointed. Soon may Elijah return and bring joy to our hearts. May no stranger occupy David's throne and may no usurper inherit his glory. For by Thy holy name, Thou hast promised unto him that his light will never be extinguished. Blessed art thou, O Lord, the Shield of David."

And so, like our little guest, we stand on tiptoe and peer into a vision of limitless possibilities. Our thanks for His beneficences should be limitless too. "We give Thee thanks and bless Thee, O Lord our G od, for the Torah, and for the worship of this day and for the prophets, as well as for this Sabbath day which Thou O Lord our G od has given us for holiness and for rest, for glory, and delight. Evermore may Thy name be continually praised by every living being. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the shield of David."

The old Jewish prayer book I have relied on since my days in the Army, put together expressly "for Jewish personnel in the armed forces of the United States," still holds up as well as any other when it comes to counting my uncountable blessings from above.

"It is hoped that this prayer book will not only be a source of inspiration to the Jewish personnel in the Armed Forces and a link in the chain of faith that binds them to their families while they are in the military service, but that it will also be a means of strengthening their loyalty to their religious tradition both during and after their years in the Armed Forces." As it has been in my case. For His truth goes marching on.

And so this story that will never end is to be continued if we follow the example of our littlest guest and best teacher of all. Who is wise? the commentary asks, and proceeds to answer: He who learns from everyone he meets, however old and wise or young and innocent. For it's summertime, when the living is easy but the harvest of our labors is already plentiful. Such are the contradictions He uses to instruct us all.

May His blessings, like his miracles, never cease enlightening us all. If only we will all look up and notice the miraculous all around us, waiting only to be noticed. Amen, selah and hallellujah.

Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His column has appeared in JWR since June, 1998.