What are you doing this Sunday? (Hint: it’s Mothers’ Day!)
So, you better be planning on a brunch or a lunch or a dinner. After all, sharing a meal is one of the ways that we share ourselves with others. Family dinners are an important part of family bonding. The dinner-date is a key element in courtship in our society.
The idea of sharing food as a sign of intimacy, however, goes back a long way. It is a part of our relationship with God.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read the following verse: “They [i.e., the priests] shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the Lord’s offerings by fire, the food of their God, and so must be holy (Leviticus 21:6).”
We often look down our noses at the concept of sacrifices. We secretly are grateful that the Temple no longer exists because we cannot imagine having to kill animals in order to worship God. However, animal sacrifice was really an attempt to share a meal with God. When our ancestors offered a sacrifice — part went to God, part to the priest and part to the individual.
It was an attempt to be intimate with God.
We no longer share meals with God in the same way as our ancestors, and I think we can all agree that’s a good thing. However, we have other means to the same end.
When we add the special blessings over the wine and bread (Kiddush and Hamotzi) to our Friday night meal, for example, we are inviting God to join us at the table.
When we make a Se’udat Mitzvah – the joyous celebratory meal attached to a bris, baby naming, bar/bat mitzvah, wedding, etc. – we are asking God to share in our special moment and bless it.
Ideally, we would find a way to include God every time we break bread. However in today’s world of fast food and meals in the car, it is not realistic to think that we can make EVERY meal a sacred occasion.
It is realistic, however, to say that we can do this at least once a week, and that once a week should be Shabbat. It is not unreasonable for us to try and set aside Shabbat dinner as a time when we can be together with our families and together with God.
In the great collection of wisdom called Pirke Avot (Teachings of our Ancestors), we read the following: “Rabbi Shimon taught: Three who dine at a table and exchange words of Torah are considered as having eaten at God’s table as it is written, ‘And God spoke to me: This is the Table before Adonai (Ezekiel 41:22).’”
Our ancestors sought to dine at God’s table through the sacrificial cult. We’re obviously not going back. However, we too can transform our table into God’s table.