Torah: Terumah- Our Tables are Our Witnesses
Why do we actually bless the table when we chant the traditional grace after meals? The words are as follows: “May the Merciful One send abundant blessings to this household and on this table that we have eaten upon.” The table is a repository of life memories. Around the table we tell our loved ones about our day and share the events of Shabbat meals, Passover seder, and special guests. The quality of our lives is reflected at the table. The dining room table is often treated as a family heirloom due to physical worth, but even more for its sentimental value.
So central was the table as a symbol of the life lived that the custom developed in Medieval Europe, especially Provence, for Jews to literally be buried with the planks of their family table as the coffin. The Talmud had stated, “One who has a long table will will have long days and long years” (Berakhot 54b). The sages explained that the table served as a witness for acts of kindness in this life assuring longevity in the World to Come.*
Shulkhan is the Hebrew word for table. In this week’s Torah we read of the building of the Tabernacle. Central to that sacred place of worship was the shulkhan upon which sacrifices were offered as gifts to God. With the destruction of the Temple and the end of sacrificial worship, the rabbis said that each Jew became a surrogate priest, reflected in our table rituals. Washing hands before reciting the blessing of motzi over bread and the placing of salt on that bread imitates the priest’s preparation for placing an offering on the altar. Our homes, the rabbis teach, are a mikdash me’at, a miniature sanctuary holding a “table before the Lord” (Ezekiel 41:22).
May we use our dining tables to gather our loved ones together. May we create memories that reflect the kind of lives that we aspire to lead. May we draw rituals from the richness of our people’s legacy for Shabbat and holiday meals as gifted ingredients of a life rich in meaning, connection, and worthy of blessing.
*Gratitude to Ari Goldman for sharing the opening question and this teaching