The Empty Shabbat Table

This Shabbat, we will read the formation story of Moshe on his path to becoming the leader of Israel who would liberate a nation from servitude. In chapter 3 of Exodus, we find him serving as a shepherd in the wilderness of Midian. The Torah reads that Moshe “saw, and look, the bush was burning with fire, and the bush was not consumed.” He has no need to take a second look; in the hot desert, dry bushes sometimes burn, though in the desolate expanse, there is no fear of a wider fire spreading. He needs only to steer clear of it.

But Moshe does look, long enough to notice that the burning bush is not consumed. He turns toward it. And the text says, “And Moses thought, ‘Let me, pray, turn aside that I may see this great sight, why the bush does not burn up.’” We see Moshe as a seeker, someone willing to turn toward uncomfortable sights. In displaying this trait, once again, he confirms that he is right person to be the agent of the divine for liberating a suffering people.

It has been ninety days since the dark Shabbat of October 7th. It is feeling ever more difficult to keep looking toward Israel and Gaza and to allow ourselves to be affected by the immense suffering all around. To that end, groups around the world, including here in DC, have taken in upon themselves to draw attention to the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza by setting empty Shabbat tables in public spaces with one setting and an empty chair for each person still in captivity.

Shaare Torah is proud to support the Empty Shabbat Table on the National Mall by lending fifty chairs for the weekly installation, beginning today.

Similar to the empty chair that we have been setting out in our sanctuary during our prayer services, it is a small but powerful symbol to help us turn our eyes–and our hearts–with compassion to the terrible suffering in Israel and Gaza and to pray for the safe return of all hostages and a just resolution of the war soon. As we bring our attention to Israel, may we also find moments of grounding presence this Shabbat.