Should a yeshiva bachur wear his hat while eating in the yeshiva dining room?
This depends on the minhag hamedina; it depends on the accepted custom.
I want to explain something. My shver, zichrono livracha, never ate without a hat in his house. Always with a hat. Lunch, breakfast, supper, whatever, it was always with a hat. Because he was a Slabodka talmid and he learned the dignity of being a Jew.
A Jew is like a Kohen Gadol and it says by the Kohen Gadol וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַֽהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָֽרֶת. Aharon must be dressed with honor and with beauty. And so a Jew is a Kohen Gadol, and the table is not a feeding trough where horses are led to feed on oats. A table is a mizbeyach and it’s a place of avodas Hashem. That’s how Jews who learn Torah understand it.
When you approach a table, there is salt on the table. על כל קרבנך תקריב מלח – on all your offerings there should be salt. Even though you don’t like salt, put a little bit of salt. Dip your bread three times in salt. One, two, three, just to show that you’re doing it for a purpose, not just for taste. One, two, three. That’s a korban to Hashem.
And also, it’s not a bad idea that you should think, like it says in Shulchan Aruch, in Chayei Adam, שכל כונותיו יהיה לשם שמים. You should think, “I’m eating now this meal to serve You Hashem.” Isn’t that a beautiful way to eat?
It won’t detract from your gusto, from your appetite. You can eat with appetite. You can relish your food, but say it beforehand; eat with this thought in mind, “I’m approaching the table to serve you, Hashem. I want to get the strength in order to fulfill Your commandments.”
And also, when you approach the table, you realize that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is your host and you’re only a little orphaned boy or orphaned girl being fed at Hashem’s table. תערך לפני שולחן – You set the table before me, Hashem. And therefore when you approach the table, you approach it with the greatest derech eretz.
A man once told me he had an old European mother. When he was a little boy, he used to run and play and sometimes he would sit on the table; and his mother drove him off the table. “A Yiddishe tish is kadosh! A Jewish table is holy,” she said. An old European mother. “You can’t sit on the table!” You hear that? She drove him off the table. He became a professor later in life; a very cultured, successful man. He never forgot his mother’s teaching, “You can’t sit on a table.” A Jewish table is kadosh.
And so when you approach the table to eat in the yeshiva dining room, if you want to wear a hat with this kavanah, because you’re serving Hakodosh Boruch Hu just like you wear a hat in shmoneh esrei – you shouldn’t stand shmoneh esrei with just a yarmulkeh; a yarmulkeh is too informal when you’re standing before a king. If you have no hat, well, it can’t be helped. If you have a hat, it’s better to wear a hat during shmonah esrei. So if you want to sit at the table in the yeshiva dining room with a hat, why not?
However, I said this with a modification at the beginning. If nobody wears a hat in your dining room, so maybe you shouldn’t be different from the minhag.
But if you have a choice, it’s always is a sign of nobility when you approach a Jewish table with a head covering.
Even in the hottest weather, my father-in-law, alav hashalom, never took off his jacket at the table. He sat with a jacket and a hat at the table always. It was a principle. He learned from Slabodka, you have to be a man who exemplifies the teachings of the Torah. Be dignified! A Jew has to be dignified.
בנים אתם לה’ אלקיכם – You are My children said Hashem, לא תתגדדו – you shouldn’t cut yourself, ולא תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת – you shouldn’t pluck out your hair. You shouldn’t pluck out your hair because of a dead body, chalilah. In mourning, you shouldn’t pluck your hair.
So Rashi brings, “You’re My children, וצריכים אתם להיות נאים, and you have to be beautiful at all times, even not at the table, ולא גדודים ומקורחים. A Jew must look dignified. A Jew must be well dressed and dignified. And therefore, there is something in the principle of approaching the table wearing a hat.
TAPE # 727