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Terumah 5782 ~ February 4, 2022

It used to be the custom in one community in France that when a pious head of the household passed away, the community would take the family’s dining room table and create the casket for the deceased from its wood. How strange a custom that must have been, yet quite symbolic. One commentary suggested that the custom was to remind people that one takes nothing with them to the grave.  I would like to suggest the opposite.

Our dining room or kitchen table is part of the mikdash me’at, the miniature sanctuary that we create in each of our own homes. The table represents the mizbe’ach, the altar upon which the sacrifice in the Beit Hamikdash, was offered. It is there that all aspects of lives are lived: Shabbat dinners, guests, tzedakah given…. Our dining rooms were the place that modeled for our children and for ourselves the essence of our Jewish expression.

The challah, in many ways still is representative of the actual sacrifice that one would bring to the Temple in appreciation and celebration. For those who salt their challah before partaking of it, one can sense how real that presentation might have been in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem. And even for those who do not, one understands that the challah represents more than simply the double gathering of the manna in the desert by the Children of Israel, indicative that one rests and does not gather on Shabbat.

It was around the dining room table that one’s religious life became so real. The lighting of candles, the recitation of the kiddush, the sharing stories of the week’s events, perhaps the singing of zemirot, the preparation and partaking of the meal and the expression of gratitude for a week completed and a moment to sit back and reflect and rest - all of these items are now being taken with the deceased to express an appreciation for all that was “lived,” all that was “gained,” all that was “given,” all that was “achieved,” and, yes, even all that was not yet “realized.” Perhaps, then, the dining room table was presenting to Hashem all that was achieved during a lifetime, sitting around that table. Or, perhaps, it might be an expression to the next generation that one now has to build one’s own mizbe’ach, one’s own altar, and not sit on the laurels of the deeds of the previous generation.

Strange as it may seem, most of our children have no interest in our heirlooms in our dining rooms. Ask any antiques person about the value of your fine china and you will soon understand. Most fine china today is purchased so that if someone in an older age bracket has a mishap with their china, one can purchase a replacement.

None-the-less, I hope that it is not as rare that our future generations have been inspired from sitting around our dining room tables and from our lives, and the stories and lessons gleaned, from generations passed.  At least that is the hope, if not the reality, achieved and continuing to be passed on l’dor va’dor, from generation to generation, if not around our dining room tables, then at least with challah as part of our meal.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782