Don’t Just Feed Them. Nourish Them.

Do you feed people? Or do you nourish them?

We were listening to a sermon following a beautifully performed Bat Mitzvah in Owings Mills, Maryland, when my sister elbowed me:

He’s talking about you and Bob!

The sermon began with the description of how, over thousands of years, our Jewish traditions moved from the homes, to the Temple, and back to our homes. I remember only 3 sermons of the hundreds I’ve heard in my life, and this was one. It resonated with me in a way few others have, which is part of why I don’t find my spirituality in a synagogue.

This Rabbi, this sermon, was special. In the early days of Jewish practice, all rituals and celebrations took place in the home, from the bris (ritual circumcision), to Sabbath prayers. When the Jews were finally settled in Jerusalem, they built the first Temple, and most rituals and celebrations moved to that building. Then the Temple was destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again.

For thousands of years, Jews were murdered, forced to live in ghettos, and forcibly removed from their homes, over and over again. After the second Temple was destroyed, rituals and celebrations moved back into the homes of the Jews. The Rabbi reminded us that these days, though we have synagogues all over the world, the majority of our Jewish time together, our rituals and celebrations, are at our dining room tables — in our homes.

The Rabbi asked the audience: What makes your table holy?

A few answers were thrown out there: Turning off the television, putting away devices, eating together, etc.

The Rabbi’s eyes lit up. “Yes, eating together. What about that is holy?”

Someone answered that when we eat good, healthful food together, we build our bodies and our relationships. Other answers were offered, and the Rabbi nodded his head each time.

I said:

Feeding guests at the table makes it even more holy.

“YES!” Exclaimed the Rabbi, and reminded us all that this is a very important mitzvah (good deed). Feeding guests at your table makes your table holy.

That’s when my sister elbowed me playfully, and with a sweet tenderness whispered: “Your table is SO holy.”

It hadn’t occurred to me before, that we didn’t just feed people at our table, we nourished them. I thought back to the house we grew up in; my parents were always welcoming people to our table. Even when money was very tight, we always had enough to feed the guests in our home.

I’ll never forget the many dinners of my childhood, our table filled with our friends, particularly the teenagers we brought home with us. Most of them had either been kicked out of their own homes for one reason or another, didn’t have enough food in their homes, or simply enjoyed the family dynamics at our house.

As those memories flooded my brain, and the Rabbi’s sermon became a quiet background noise, I realized that our house had become THAT house. I smiled with the thoughts and images of so many meals in our house, people laughing, crying, sharing, embracing, celebrating, mourning, and simply being together. Through beautifully presented, delicious, nourishing meals, we have been bringing people together for decades at our holy table.

How do we apply this to daily life, outside of the house? How do we nourish people we meet?

It’s an easy answer. Smile at people. Genuinely care about every person who crosses your path, by smiling and acknowledging them. It’s that simple. When you spend your day with the intention to help those you meet through work, errands, and your neighborhood activities, you nourish those people in your community. You don’t have to feed people food to nourish them. Feed them positive energy. Feed them friendliness, warmth and kindness. Feed them love.

Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.

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