Jewish Wisdom for Goys & Gers

Daily Life

What Does a Table Mean to You?

For the past several weeks, we have been reading about the furniture in the Tabernacle, each piece of which points to some sort of spiritual truth that we can experience practically in our daily lives. Of particular interest, I have been meditating and reflecting on the possible meanings and implications of the “shulchan”; that is, the table. So I first want to ask, what does a table represent to you?

I currently don’t own a table. I got rid of my dining set soon after my partner passed away 2 1/2 years ago because that table had  source of come to signify loss and its accompanying pain. Beforehand, the table had been the place where we ate daily, sharing lour lives together with all its ups and downs. When he passed, I could no longer bear to sit at that table and eat alone; I merely felt the deep sadness of his loss. So I left it behind when I moved out. To this day, I’m table-less as I eat on my coffee table.

In Medieval France, it was the custom to bury the leaders of the Jewish community in coffins that were constructed from the planks of their dining room table! Just imagine, every day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, thinking to yourself: “One day, I’m going to be stretched out a box made from this table!” I bet they thought a bit more carefully before speaking! Indeed, to the French Jews, the consequences of what one did at the table in this life would eventually follow them in the afterlife.

Up to now, we have been discussing physical tables and their practical use in the material world. As stated, the table in the Tabernacle pointed to deeper spiritual truths that we can apply to our daily lives. One of these truths can be found in Psalm 23:4-5 which read: “I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me… You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies…”

Think about it! We have numerous enemies in life that come to steal our joy, our peace, our health, and potentially every other area of our well-being. At times, these enemies are actual people; sometimes, they are situations that bring discouragement, sadness, pain, and suffering. The exciting fact is, whatever and whoever these enemies are, God prepares for us a table in the midst of them!

Right smack in the midst of everything and anything that can go wrong in life, God invites us to dine at His table and commune with Him! But how can we partake of God’s smorgasbord of blessings? This is the beauty of Orthodox Judaism! Every time we put a piece of food in our mouth, we are commanded to pronounce a specific blessing. Not only do we pray before we eat but we also pray during and after meals! In additon to blessings, there are rituals that reflect the priestly service in the Tabernacle: Before eating bread, we wash our hands! On Friday night, we sprinkle the bread as if it were a sacrifice.

Unfortunately for many people, these prayers and rituals have become routine, even meaningless. But they were designed to elevate us from the material world, the physical table, and into God’s presence at His spiritual table! God has given us the Halakhah (the law) and mitzvoth (commandments), as well as all these prayers and blessings, so that our lives could be infused with His presence–even in the midst of our enemies!

So the next time you run into a problem in life, say to yourself: “It’s dinner time!”

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