In this week’s parsha, G-d instructs the people of Israel to build for Him a dwelling, also called a sanctuary and referred to as a Tabernacle. Among the instructions for its furnishings: “Make a table of shittim (acacia) wood.” The ark and the altar were also to be made of shittim.
What is the significance of shittim (acacia) wood?
Rabbeinu Bachya writes that shittim forms an acronym for the words shalom (peace), tova (goodness), yeshua (salvation) and mechila (forgiveness.) All four of these blessings come to the Jewish people through the furnishings of the Tabernacle.
Rabbi Yissocher Frand asks: Now that we no longer have these furnishings, how can we continue to receive these blessings? Rabbeinu Bachya answers by citing the Talmud (Chagiga 27a): “Now that the Holy Temple is no longer standing, a person receives atonement through his own table.”
Writes Rabbi Frand: “If we feed the poor, welcome the traveler and host guests at our table, then the dining room table –or the kitchen table for that matter – becomes our personal altar of atonement.”
Writes Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum: “The shulchan (table) attests to an individual’s integrity and worthiness for Olam Haba (the World to Come.) The shulchan is the symbol of prosperity. It represents the demand upon every Jew to share his material abundance with those less fortunate than he. The shulchan testifies that its owner has fulfilled his obligation to others.”
Rabbeinu Bachya notes an ancient French custom of using the wood of one’s dining table to construct one’s coffin. Writes Rabbi Scheinbaum: “This reinforces the concept that man takes nothing with him as his earthly remains are laid to rest. Only the charity and kindness that he has extended to others accompany him upon his eternal journey.”
As parents, we control what happens at our table: who sits around the table, what food is served, what is discussed. We can treat the table as an altar, and the home as a miniature sanctuary. We can use meal times as an opportunity to infuse our families with holiness and with blessings.