Today I am weaving together ideas rather than threads.
Michelle raised an interesting point on Daf 148/149 that comes from Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s Peninei Halacha (Shabbat, The Spirit of Shabbat–Perek 22, Section 12). He writes that today there is more abundance and hosts generally prepare extra food, so that one is unlikely to erase someone from a guest list on Shabbat. The assumption is that the more food there is available, the less one worries about having a proper portion for each guest.
But sometimes the opposite is true. Even though today we generally have more food than in ancient times, the perception of a serving depends upon the standards and expectations of a community or social circle.
Twenty-five years ago, we lived in a Jewish community that was extremely wealthy and successful. Every Shabbat, in the community room, there was a full sit down kiddush lunch with waiters, china plates, and several courses including poured coffee and dessert. There was no registration or payment required—the community had a large trust fund thanks to its original founders. Hundreds of people attended each week. The community held elaborate benefit dinners, holiday parties, and social outings…but it was not immune to disputes, often serious ones…and not all of them for the sake of heaven.
Then, we moved to Moscow which was just at the beginning of the revival of its Jewish community after years of communism and persecution. The congregants in Rabbi Berel Lazar’s small synagogue were older and economically disadvantaged. After prayer services, the kiddush was held upstairs in a tiny room above the shul (standing room only), and the weekly fare consisted of chopped beets, small sardines, cabbage salad, crackers and grape juice, served on disposable plates with plastic cutlery. Whatever was there was shared equally among the congregants. We knew that for many this was their main meal (while we had lunch waiting at home), so we took only a token amount of food. The people there had been deprived of physical and spiritual Judaism for so long that this basic Shabbat kiddush food made them so happy and thankful. We were amazed at the gratitude for their portion.
Shabbat is a time to physically eat, of course, but mainly we receive spiritual sustenance. Maybe the most important reason that we should not count heads and consider erasing our guest list for a perceived shortage of food is because of the Manna. The “מן” (the G-dly food that was showered upon the Israelites in the desert) has the same letters as the word “מנה” (mana–share, ration, dose or serving). The Israelites were not allowed to collect the Manna on Shabbat. They received a double portion on Friday, and yet it was always enough for Shabbat. It’s a matter of being happy with what you have—you can always make the cake slices a little smaller so everyone can taste it. There is an Israeli song written by Naomi Shemer and sung by Hakol Over Habibi…It’s called האורח (Haoreach—the guest), and because there was scarcity in the early days of Israel, they sing, “that’s what there is—sit and eat with us.” .זה משיש – שב איתנו כן
Here you can listen and see an English translation:
May we all enjoy the simple spiritual and material pleasures of Shabbat!