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The Table


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:

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.


The Eagle Has Landed

Many people ask us, “What do you do for Shabbos?  Isn’t it boring being out there by yourselves in the woods for an entire Shabbos?”

We do have guests for Shabbos; sometimes friends or family from home, other times complete strangers; but it’s always interesting (we are members of – an international web host-guest “matchmaking” service  – check it out!).

This past Shabbos, we did not have guests, but it was certainly not dull!

At 6:15 this morning, I was awakened by a very loud noise outside my bedroom window.  I recognized the noises.  First there was a soft squeak.  Then there was a very loud, high-pitched screech.  Then flapping, like a bird taking flight.  But it wasn’t any old flapping. It was very loud and deep, like something HUGE.  How can I describe the sound?  If you shook out a bath towel on a windy day, it would make a certain type of fluttering noise.  But if you took an 8′ x 10′ tarp and shook it out the same way, it would not be a fluttering noise – it would be a low thunder.  Instinctively, I  knew immediately – it was an eagle!  But:  I was in a Nyquil-induced fog.  Stupidly lazy, I yelled at my husband:  “Quick!  Go to the window!  There is something out there!”

Bless him, my husband awoke like his pajamas were on fire and ran to the window, only to see a huge dark wingspan that looked as wide as our driveway (actually, the wingspan is a maximum of 7′) rising from the ground, sailing up into the sky.  That was it – mere seconds – and the eagle, grasping whatever little creature had squeaked when caught by its talons – – was gone.  A couple of years ago I’d seen a young bald eagle hanging around the bog at the bottom of the driveway – – when young, bald eagles are one color and look just like golden eagles; they develop their iconic white-feathered heads when they reach maturity, at about age 5.  But this was the first time one was seen directly on our property – – and right beneath our bedroom window!

A little while later, my husband was about to start davening, when he looked outside.  There, in my orchard, were two wild turkey hens, accompanied by two chicks.  When they sensed they were being observed, they ran quickly into the woods.

Yesterday – –  Friday – –  it had rained non-stop for 24 hours; a hard, unremitting, driving, pounding rain, falling in sheets; we got 6″ of rain and there were flash flood warnings on the roads.  But today it was absolutely perfect.  The sky was a deep azure blue; there was a stiff breeze so the bugs were few; the sun shone brightly and it was 77 degrees.  After davening and lunch we went for a walk, but upon our return I felt like I needed some more outdoors time.  Around 3:30 pm I was laying in the hammock, looking into the woods, relaxing.

Suddenly my dog gave a short, quiet, “Woof!” and ran towards the woods.  Much to my utter amazement, a moose cow was running through our property!  Again, the whole thing was over in seconds.  Had it not been for my dog, I would have missed the moose entirely.

Later in the day we walked over to the cabin  down the road to report the moose sighting to our weekend neighbors.  “Yes!” said the woman, “I was just out blackberry picking in our woods and I suddenly heard a noise.  I turned around, and there was a moose not ten feet away from me!  I don’t know who was more startled!  I looked at her, she looked at me . . . and then the moose simply walked away.  I am so excited!” she said, giving her husband a huge hug.

I don’t know what makes seeing a moose so exciting, but it is!  I never get tired of this experience.  How a creature so huge and ungainly looking can somehow move with such grace and speed, and camouflage itself so effectively so as to “disappear” in front of your eyes – – it’s both wondrous and endearing.

So that was our Shabbos . . . certainly not boring!