Strawberry, chocolate, and milk stains dotted the dining room tablecloth. Toys were strewn across the living room. And the squeals of three toddlers filled our home. It was Friday night, and this Shabbat dinner was “much, much better” than others. Friends sat at our table with us.
I write “much, much better” intentionally, borrowing a phrase from the children’s book, Much Much Better, by Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky and illustrator Jessica Schiffman. In the book, characters Shlomo and Miriam welcome a Shabbat guest, the prophet Elijah disguised as a needy traveler. Elijah tells the couple that their home will be “much, much better” if the tablecloth gets a stain, if books are askew, and if crumbs litter the floor. He returns to their home the next year to see a happy couple with a new baby and messy house.
The message of the book is clear: Shabbat dinner is better with young ones at the table. It is better when we open up our homes to others for an evening. It is better when we choose not to fret about spilled milk, stained tablecloths, and fidgety children. Youngsters at our table are a blessing. And so are adult guests.
We said the blessings over the candles and the wine, stumbling some on the words of the Kiddush. If anything, forgetting some words seemed just fine, given that children were watching. Learning requires a willingness to make mistakes. I, like many Jews, am still learning all the words of our ritual prayers. One of our friends asked if we wanted to say the Shabbat blessing over the children. The parents nodded, and each of us put our hands on our child’s head as we said the blessing. It was the first time my husband and I had said that prayer to our child – and now, perhaps it will become one of our traditions when we do Shabbat on our own. The children soon were off playing, giggling, laughing, and chasing each other in circles in our living room. The adults lingered at the table, singing a few Shabbat songs.
It was a night I hope to repeat again and again. Warmth filled our home as we celebrated Shabbat with friends and their children. After our guests left, and our son was long asleep, my husband and I sat in the living room a while longer. We left the strewn toys for the next day and sang more songs until we almost fell asleep in our chairs. Just beyond us, the flames on our fast-disappearing Shabbat candles flickered.