Friday, August 18, 2017

At the Rebbe’s Table

In a chassidic community, the Rebbe is far more than the decider of Jewish law and the head of the synagogue. A Chassidic Rebbe is the center of life for his community, a guide for their spiritual growth and religious practice. For many chassidim, there are few things more important than being in the presence of their Rebbe, for just being in his presence offers the chassid an opportunity to learn how to better serve God.

One unique custom allows large numbers of chassidim to join in the Shabbat and/or festival meals of their Rebbe. The tisch (which literally means table) varies from sect to sect, but does have some basic similarities. The Rebbe sits at a large head table. When the tisch meal starts, the Rebbe makes the requisite blessings (such as kiddush over wine and ha’mo’tzee over bread if it is a Friday night, or just ha’mo’tzee over bread if it is a third meal, Melave Malka, yahrtzeit or other type of special meal), allowing the chassidim to respond with an “Amen.” In many chassidic communities, all of the very large portions of food  from which the Rebbe takes a bite is divided into small pieces that are distributed to all those present. The food shared from the Rebbe is known as shirayim (leftovers). Some chassidic tisches are small, while others are so large that bleachers are arranged for the gathered chassidim.

More than just food, the Rebbe shares words of Torah and, perhaps, inspiring stories with his Chassidim. Additionally, the chassidic tisch is known for singing. Either the Rebbe himself or someone(s) designated by the Rebbe leads those gathered in zmirot (Shabbat songs) and/or niggunim (wordless songs articulated with repeated syllables such as “aye aye aye.”) In some communities there is dancing as well.

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