January 28, 2023 |

Share the Light

Anyone who has enjoyed a beautiful Shabbat dinner knows that when you walk intoa shabbat home, you will see a beautifully-set table, with a table cloth, a kiddush cup and covered loaves of challa. You will also see lit candles, often in silver candlesticks, burning merrily. Shabbat makes people happy, so most of the time people are happily exchanging "shabbat shaloms" as they prepare to eat the delicious meal, sharing words of song, Torah and blessing.

It is less obvious that this set-up is modeled after the mishkan, the Tabernacle, which is described in thi week's Torah portion, Teruma. In the mishkan, the seat at the head of the table, so to speak, is filled by God Him/Herself. His place (in the Holy of Holies room) is atop the ark of the covenant (which has the tablets inside of it) and before Him (in the Holy room) is the tablecloth (the parochet that divides between the 2 rooms), the golden menora and the golden showbread table, set with 12 loaves[1]. The menora, lit with oil is the same symbol as our shabbat licht and the table and its loaves correspond with our Shabbat table and its loaves.

It is often suggested that the menora represents the spiritual aspects of our lives. It is the part of us, i.e. our souls, that is most like a flame, both part of and apart from this world, here but not really tangible. It also represents the or torah, the light of Torah, the mission and message of the Jewish people that leads us to leave more spiritual and exalted lives.

The table, on the other hand, represents the physical aspects of our lives. Bread is the staple of the human diet and represents the fuel we need to survive, the economy of the world. Bread is what our bodies needs, while light is what our souls need.

The thing is that "not by bread alone shall Man live, but by everything that comes out of the mouth of Hashem shall Man live." (Deut. 8:3). There must be a partnership between our bodies and our souls to accomplish our goals. Certainly, the soul without the body is but a ghost and the body without the soul is but a brute.

One of the ways by which this is accomplished is by infusing our physical needs with spiritual satisfaction. This is why it is important on Shabbat to eat foods you really like (even if you are on a diet), to spend quality time with fanily and friends, and to take a nap. The physical is used here to enhance the spiritual. This is why it's important to use some of the money we make for tzedaka, towards the needs of others. Here, the physical is enhanced BY the spiritual.

The Torah describes this fundamental relationship from thevery architecture of the mishkan. The menora and the shulchan (the table) flanked the entrance to the Holy of Holies - the physical and the spiritual - but they enhanced each other as well. The menora was required to be placed so that the light of its flames radiated over the table with the 12 loaves. Without the menora, the shulchan (the meal, the physiucal needs) would have been cast in darkness. Without the shulchan, the menora ( the spiritual needs) would have had nothing to illuminate.

The Rashbam notes this on the verse: "and raise up her candles so they shine across her face" (Sh'mot 25:37): "he should light the wicks across the face of the menora, towards the table opposite it...so that all seven of her candles illuminate the table opposite her across from her."

May we merit to have beautiful shabbat tables, to have our souls illuminate all our physical activities and to imbue all our spiritual activites with the enioyment of our lives. Shabbat shalom!

[1] Some people have the custom of having 12 loaves instead of the traditional 2, for this reason. They represent each of the tribes.


Rabbi Avi Heller

Joined: July 27, 2007

Originally from Denver CO, Rav Avi received a BA from BU and Rabbinic ordination and an MA in Bible from YU. Before joining MJE, he was Director of Jewish Education at BU Hillel, co-directed the BU Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus and was an Associate University Chaplain. He has been the...

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