Tuesday, August 26, 2008


By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There is a popular Chassidic custom to endeavor to obtain food from which a Rebbe has partaken from. This practice is referred to as "shirayim", meaning “leftovers”. The shirayim ritual takes on a number of different forms. In some Chassidic circles the Chassidim line up to receive wine upon which the Rebbe had recited Kiddush or Havdala. Other Rebbes have scheduled hours when they receive visitors and distribute fruits or nuts. Yet other Rebbes arrange elaborate gatherings on Shabbat and holidays, known as "tisches", where Chassidim gather around as the Rebbe eats his meal. In such settings, the Rebbe will often take a small portion of food from a large serving platter, after which the platter is passed around to the Chassidim in order for everyone to be able to partake of the Rebbe's "shirayim".

Click here to read moreThe source and significance of this practice is said to originate from a number of sources. Some suggest that it derives from the biblical blessing of plenty, "Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl (mishartecha)"[1] in which the word mishartecha can be creatively translated to read: "your leftovers", as if to say, leftovers [from a tzaddik] bring blessing.[2] Others suggest[3] that the idea derives from the episode where Yitro (Moshe's father-in-law) offered sacrifices to God at which time Aharon and the elders came to eat with him.[4] Commenting on this verse, Rashi quotes the Talmud which teaches that: "one who derives pleasure from a meal which included Torah scholars is considered to be deriving pleasure from the Divine Presence."[5]

Another approach has it that the shirayim concept is an extention of the mitzva of "peah" in which one must leave a corner of one's field for the poor.[6] It is taught that the peah concept can be extended to include leaving over some food at a meal for others to enjoy. Indeed, the Talmud teaches that "one who does not leave over bread at his table will never see a sign of blessing".[7] Hence, the shirayim, often consisting of bread, is the "leftover" bread which brings blessing.

The Yerushalmi relates that Rabbi Yochanan would go to the synagogue in the mornings to collect any leftover crumbs remaining from a Seudat Mitzva held the night before.[8] As he ate them he would say: "May my portion be like those who ate here yesterday." Just as Rabbi Yochanan would eat the leftovers with great enthusiasm, so too the leftovers of a tzaddik and his seudat mitzva should be eaten in such a manner. There are also Talmudic sources which teach that when food is distributed by the head of the household it brings blessing to the family.[9] In this context, of course, the Rebbe is the head of the household while the Chassidim are the family.

Finally, there is a concept within Chassidic thought known as "birur hanitzotzim" which teaches that when a tzaddik touches something he is able to unify all the Divine forces within it, thereby elevating the object and purifying it. Related to this is the belief that food actually contains the sparks of transmigrating souls. When one consumes such food it allows those sparks to be released and move on. The souls, in turn, bless the one who ate from the food. According to this approach, this "soul release" initiative is more assured when discharged upon food which has been elevated by having been blessing by the tzaddik.


[1] Devarim 28:5
[2] Sefer Chassidim 888
[3] Letters from the Rebbe, Vol. 3 p. 193
[4] Shemot 18:12
[5] Berachot 64a
[6] Vayikra 19:9-10
[7] Sanhedrin 92a
[8] Moed Katan 2:3
[9] Berachot 51b

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