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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The Grand Old Table

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Hello. We have just turned the corner from Exodus to Leviticus as we approach Passover, we are also exiting, all being well, a time of great isolation. As we begin this fascinating and center book of the Chamisha Chumshei Torah we learn about the very beginnings of Judaism, a Judaism that seems far removed from the Judaism we practice today. But as it is with all things, ancient practices evolve and change. In this small poem we will explore the evolution of the mizbeach to the tables in our homes.

Here is a quote from Ismar Schorsch about this brilliant transition:

".....what became of the altar in Jewish consciousness after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Rabbis transposed it metaphorically into another sacred key: the Jewish home. The altar became the table at which the family gathered to eat its common meals. It is the consumption of food which connects the two institutions. Thus Rabbis Yohanan and Resh Lakish in third century Palestine conceived it to be a locus for reconciliation. "In the days of the Temple, the altar served to atone for us; now it is our table that atones for us (B.T.Hagiga 27a)." Rashi, in his comment on their assertion, suggests that the atonement is effected by inviting guests to our table, that is, in repairing our relations with people outside the family.

From The Alter at Home by Ismar Schorsch in 1999 on the JTS website.

I hope that after this poem you will feel a little differently about your tables.


The Grand Old Table

The grand old table stands alone at sunrise

Four legs, a little wobbly now

The golden morning light illuminates her

a white cloth drapes over her,

under her cover she is polished still

Her chairs surround her

They are like small pups

snuggling under the protection of their mother

But they too are old

The fabric of their cushions are stained

hundreds of greasy fingers have rested on them

the weight of many backsides have loosened their joints

They creak and lean in a little closer

but are strong still

The grand old table sits lonely after a year of solitude

The dining room is frozen in time

Her company is the sound of the birds outside the window

The sun warms her and she silently waits

She has time

and she has her memories to sustain her

And she is proud

She knows she is not ordinary,

but extraordinary

She enables moments of holiness

Moments that soar high and higher

Like the smoke at the alters in a hot desert of long ago

At these moments

She welcomes the drips of wine on her finery of white

She feels the weight of the challah plate or her

and the fine sprinkle of salt that falls like snow

She hears the sound of blessing

It connects her to her higher purpose

and she grows a little straighter

And then, most beautiful of all

She hears the sounds of voices

of laughter, debate

sharing of stories

The sounds of song mingle with

the chirping of the birds

She hears words of Torah

She has purpose, she brings meaning

And the chairs around her settle in close

The grand old table is patient

She knows that time passes

That she will have a purpose again


She will wait

and once again,

perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a week

or a month

She will be the heart of the household

She knows that each of us has a purpose

We can all elevate holiness in the world


Even a table,


even a grand old table.

Vayikra 2:3 (translation from Sefaria)

וְכָל־קָרְבַּ֣ן מִנְחָתְךָ֮ בַּמֶּ֣לַח תִּמְלָח֒ וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁבִּ֗ית מֶ֚לַח בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ מֵעַ֖ל מִנְחָתֶ֑ךָ עַ֥ל כָּל־קָרְבָּנְךָ֖ תַּקְרִ֥יב מֶֽלַח׃ (ס)

You shall season your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt.

Vayikra 3:5 (translation from Sefaria)

וְהִקְטִ֨ירוּ אֹת֤וֹ בְנֵֽי־אַהֲרֹן֙ הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חָה עַל־הָ֣עֹלָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־הָעֵצִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר עַל־הָאֵ֑שׁ אִשֵּׁ֛ה רֵ֥יחַ נִיחֹ֖חַ לַֽיהוָֽה׃ (פ)

Aaron’s sons shall turn these into smoke on the altar, with the burnt offering which is upon the wood that is on the fire, as an offering by fire, of pleasing odor to the LORD.

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