Right now, I’m not in Maine.
This Sunday, we hosted an Open House as part of our effort to sell our house in our hometown in the mid-Atlantic US. Simultaneously, we are selling the entire house contents, a process that has been ongoing for the past year. This includes pieces of antique furniture, beds, sofas, and our dining room table.
What an amazing table it is! It is a solid maple table that we’ve had for at least 35 years, bought second hand in Los Angeles. It came with us when we went to to live in Israel in the 1980s; it returned with us to the US when we moved to the Mid Atlantic. It is a gate leg table, so it folds down to a mere 24″ width to seat 2, but when fully expanded , it’s 97″ long and can seat 12 – 14. Its 2 extra leaves are butterflied (hinged in the middle) so they fold and store right in the table – – a clever, space-saving design.
While the table is very sturdy, it is nowhere near in perfect condition. One side has a long gouge-like scratch from a careless grandchild, and the finish had discolored unevenly due to sunlight exposure from a nearby window. Hence I was impressed when a young Jewish couple, due to be married in 2 weeks’ time, were not put off by its imperfections, and bought it with the great excitement that comes with the first blush of love, hopes, dreams, and establishing a new home.
Other than a woman’s Sabbath candlesticks, there is perhaps no more important object in a Jewish home than the dining room table and the challah (Sabbath bread) that rests upon it. It is an object that totally transcends its physicality as it becomes a sanctified gathering place for family Sabbath meals; Jewish and American holidays; guests holy and plain; happy events and sad; heated arguments and intellectual and religious discussion; celebration and mourning. The source for this is from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem:
One of the central Temple vessels is the golden Table for the Showbread, which stands within the Sanctuary itself, on the north side. This table is constructed of wood overlain with gold, and the specific instructions for its design are described in Exodus Chapter 25.
The priests are commanded to see to it that 12 loaves of bread are constantly displayed on this table before the presence of G-d, hence the name showbread: “And you shall place showbread on the table before Me at all times” (Ex. 25:30).
“These 12 loaves were baked in pans which gave them a specific form, and when done they rested on golden shelves upon this table. The loaves were replaced every Sabbath with new ones.
It is said that bread is the staff of life, and represents man’s physical sustenance. This is certainly so, and it is important that G-d’s blessing for goodness and bounty be found in the bread which we partake of… for without His munificent blessing, all of man’s efforts would neither satisfy nor satiate. Thus we endeavor to fulfill His will throughout every aspect of our endeavors, and in so doing, we earn His favor and blessing… for each area wherein man fulfills the Holy One’s will becomes a channel receiving Heavenly blessing.
(from The Temple Institute website: https://www.templeinstitute.org/table_showbread.htm)
As the bride and groom drove away happily with the table in their borrowed 12-seater van, I suddenly imagined a rather unpleasant scenario. Perhaps their well-meaning family or friends would take the wind out of the couple’s sails and chide them for buying a used table with its imperfections, when they might have bought something new! And so I texted them this message:
Over the years, we had many important people eat at that table, including HaRav Simcha Wasserman ztz’l, Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, Rav Meir Chodosh, and Rav Akiva Tatz, plus many more. I’m not saying this to be a name-dropper but rather, my blessing to you is that as you gather around your table, that you may continue the holiness from its past as you host guests in the spirit of Avraham Avinu and Sara Imeinu!
To which he replied,
Wow! That’s amazing! Thank you for telling me!
And to which I wish to add:
Yes, we were privileged to have many “celebrities” from the Jewish world sit, eat, talk, and expound words of Torah at our table. But we also hosted dear friends and neighbors; people who were lonely, abused, sick and bereft; mentally ill or substance abusers; travelers; strangers who became friends and some who didn’t; righteous gentiles; cult members; grandparents and parents and friends no longer in this world; and children and grandchildren, who are our future.
We ate meals there that consisted of little more than a bowl of cold cereal, and multi-course meals that were fit for a king. We celebrated the pidyon haben (redemption of the first-born) of a grandson at that table on the night before 9/11, along with the sheva brochos (festive post-wedding meal) of our children and friends’ children, including for a newlywed ba’alat tshuva couple I met in a supermarket line only the day before. We conducted our Passover seder from that table, year after year after year; we kvelled (felt happiness and pride) as the numbers of family members increased and required the table’s full extension, and then the addition of a folding table to accommodate everyone.
Unlike the table of gold from the Temple, our table was made only of wood. It carried its imperfections with dignity, like all the people of every stripe who completed it and made it the holy vessel that it is.
For us, our table was golden.