In the Torah section of Terumah, we read of the construction of the Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle), predecessor to the Bet HaMikdash, and its various components. In the course of instructing His people on the construction of the Mishkan, G-d enjoins Moses and the Israelites (Sh’mot 25:23), “And you shall make a Table of acacia wood, two cubits in length and a cubit in width and a cubit and a half in height.”
In discussing the construction of the Shulchan (Holy Table), R. Bachye ben Asher (mid-thirteenth century – 1340) notes in his commentary on the Torah that the Hebrew word for the type of wood making up the Shulchan – shittim – is an acronym for the words shalom, tovah, yeshuah and mechilah, meaning peace, goodness, salvation and forgiveness. This connotes that all the gifts received by the Israelite nation, encompassed by these blessings, reached them by way of the holy furnishings and others components of the Mishkan and Bet HaMikdash. By delving into, recognizing and appreciating the importance of these items and what they represent, we were deemed worthy of receiving blessings from G-d.
How, then, R. Bachye asks, in our times, when we no longer have the Shulchan or any of the other furnishings or components of the Bet HaMikdash, can we continue to receive blessings from G-d? In answer to this question, R. Bachye cites our Sages who state (Babylonian Talmud, Chagiga 27a), “Now that the Bet HaMikdash is no longer standing, one receives atonement through his own table.” Our own tables in the privacy of our own homes serve today as conduits to atonement and the consequent blessings to be received from G-d. If we invite others to our table, we are worthy of blessing. If we provide others the opportunity to enjoy eating at the table, we are worthy of blessing. If sitting at our table is not a mere exercise in gorging ourselves and “stuffing our faces” and satisfying our basest desires, but rather is tempered by thought for others and contemplation of the source of our blessings, then we can hope to be on the receiving end of G-d’s blessings.
R. Bachye concludes his thoughts on this matter with an intriguing note: There was a custom among the pious Jews in France to have their coffins constructed from the wood of their dining room tables. Those coming to pay their last respects to the deceased at his funeral would notice a coffin that resembled his own dining room table, the table that, as a pious person, he would uplift to a noble stature. This, R. Bachye points out, alludes to the fact that one takes nothing along with him to the world to come other than the principles of G-d that he studied, the reward for G-d’s precepts that he performed, the charity and good will that he spread and the goodness that he shared with others around the dining room table.
The makings of a table can be treated in a very physical and base manner – as a simple means of where to engage in base physical desires – or the makings of a table can serve as a means to convey noble and uplifting concepts. While the former will only gain us base and immediate satisfaction, the latter can be the source of everlasting blessing. The choice is ours.