The Blessings of the TableJanuary 30, 2014 - 5:00 am
Make a table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high.—Exodus 25:23
The Torah portion for this week is Terumah, which means “contributions,” from Exodus 25:1–27:19, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 5:26–6:13.
Tucked away in a corner of Jerusalem lives an amazing family. For 30 years now, Rabbi Mordechai and Henny Machlis, originally from New York, have opened their home every Sabbath. That means everyone is welcome to share the family’s Sabbath meals on Friday night and Saturday. And everyone means anyone — Jews, non-Jews, young and old, tourists and students, and especially the homeless, lonely, and poor. The Machlis family generally hosts more than 200 people every single weekend. Through their warmth and kindness, the Machlis are changing the world — one guest at a time.
In this week’s portion, we read about the various items that were created for sacred use, first in the Tabernacle and then later in the Temple. Among those items was the altar on which sacrifices were offered and through which forgiveness would be granted. Now that the Temple has been gone for thousands of years, we have found other ways to attain atonement, such as through prayer and heartfelt repentance. However the Sages offer yet another option: “As long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man’s table atones for him.”
The source for this idea is found in the book of Ezekiel where the prophet was shown a vision of the third Temple. In describing what he saw, the prophet said, “There was a wooden altar three cubits high . . . The man said to me, ‘This is the table that is before the LORD’” (Ezekiel 41:22). What started out as the altar in the vision became the table by the end of the verse. Today’s tables are the altars of the ancient times, and our homes are now sanctuaries. Through them, we can grow closer to God and gain forgiveness.
Specifically, we elicit four types of blessings from using our tables in service of God. Our verse tells us that the table in the Tabernacle had to be made out of acacia wood, in Hebrew, shittim. The word shittim is an acronym for four words: Shalom (peace), Yeshuah (salvation), Tova (goodness), and Mechilah (forgiveness). When used properly, our tables can be powerful conduits for these blessings.
Think of all the ways that we can do God’s work at our tables. Serving family and friends a warm and nourishing meal is an act of kindness. Or pouring a simple cup of tea for a friend who needs some company and comfort. In addition, we can use our tables as a place for reading and learning God’s Word together, a place for offering prayers and praise to God.
As we sit around our table this week, consider the many ways it can be used to do God’s work and receive His blessings.