(Photo/Wikimedia-Olaf.herfurth CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo/Wikimedia-Olaf.herfurth CC BY-SA 3.0)

Your Shabbat table is magic. No, really. The rabbis said so.

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Exodus 27:20–30:10

Daughter: Did you know that our Shabbat table is like magic?

Father: That’s nice. Help me set it then. And how is it like magic?

Daughter: Because it replaces the Temple of Jerusalem and makes up for its destruction.

Father: Get the challah cover, please. And where did you learn this?

Daughter: It’s my Torah and haftarah portions for my bat mitzvah, Tetzaveh. Like, typically, the haftarah is thematically linked to the Torah reading. But in my case, it is certainly that, but so much more. In my Torah portion we build the Mishkan …

Father: The what?

Daughter: You know, the Tabernacle in the desert.  And my haftarah, from the Book of Ezekiel, marks the end of the First Temple. We do rebuild the Temple in Persian period, have it through the Greek period, but lose it again in the Roman period, through today. No bother, we have our Shabbat Table. We even survived the loss of the Ark of the Covenant.

Father: How do you know all of this? And where are the Shabbat candles?

Daughter: On the “Jew Oughta Know” podcast. And from my teachers I learned that Ezekiel knows this because he was born in the Land of Israel, then, in the year 434 BCE, Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jewish king Jehoiachin along with 10,000 captives, including the king’s family, the nobility of the land and the leaders of the army.  Among the refugees was Ezekiel. In 586 BCE, the Temple was destroyed.

Father: Put the challah in the oven, it’s almost dinner time. Tell me, what does your friend Ezekiel say?

Daughter: He shares his vision: “…make known to them the plan of the Temple and its layout, its exits and entrances — its entire plan, and all the laws and instructions pertaining to its entire plan. Write it down before their eyes, that they may faithfully follow its entire plan and all its laws.” (Ezekiel 43:11)

Father: What good is that? Were the exiles in Babylonia in any position to build the Temple?

Daughter: Right. There is a Midrash (Tanchuma, Tzav 14) that gives a dramatic voice to Ezekiel: “Master of the World! The Jews are exiled in the land of their enemies, and You are telling me to inform them of the Temple’s dimensions? Are they able to build it now? Wait until they are redeemed from exile, and then I will tell them!” God responds: “Just because My children are in exile, My home should not be built? Tell them to study the form of the Temple, and it will be as if they are actually building it!” That’s a cool move. Before digital virtual reality, there was textual virtual reality. As we read about it, imagine it, and abracadabra, it’s there.

Father: Table is set, food is ready, wine is here, almost time to light candles. Before we bring in the whole household, explain to me how this set table for Shabbat replaces the Tabernacle and the Temple?

Daughter: Talmud. Also, from Babylonia! The rabbis want us to have a long mealtime so that a person who does not have meal might have time to show up.  While talking about tables, they do a mashup of Ezekiel 41:22 and 43:13:

“The altar, three cubits high and the length thereof, two cubits, was of wood, and so the corners thereof; the length thereof, and the walls thereof, were also of wood and it is written: ‘And he said unto me: This is the table that is before the Lord.’ The verse begins with the altar and concludes with the table. As long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel. Now, a person’s table atones. (Berakhot 55a)

Father: Shabbat Shalom

Daughter: In our home.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan lives and works in Berkeley, California. He can be reached at [email protected].