Parashat Vayakhel

Table For Two

Our tables, symbolic altars, become tools in our quest for sacredness when we share them with the poor and marginalized.

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Ezekiel the Dreamer

One such dreamer was Ezekiel, a prophet of 2500 years ago. Living in Babylon after the destruction of the first temple, he dreamt of a Mikdash rebuilt (see Ezekiel chapters 40-48).

The Rabbis of the Talmud (Tractate B'rachot 55a) found an inconsistency in one verse of Ezekiel's dream. He dreamt of the altar in the temple, but refers to it as a shulchan, a table. Why does he call the altar a table? asked the Rabbis. Rabbi Yochanan, a third-century Rabbi in Israel, offers an interpretation. When the Mikdash stood in Jerusalem, the altar offered atonement and allowed us to return to God, lacking the Mikdash, "it is our tables in our homes that offer us atonement and closeness."

Rabbi Yochanan gives us insight into the spiritual power behind the story of Timmy's table and that of Mar Ukba's wife. As one mystical commentary explains, there is a yichud, a oneness that is achieved in the world when the poor are brought to our tables. To see them on the street reminds us of the world's brokenness. To sit with them at our tables, create relationship with them, begins our collective journey back to repair and wholeness.

Most of us may not be ready for the courage shown by Timmy or Mar Ukba's wife. Yet, there is much we can do to reach out to those at the periphery of our communities and give them a seat at our tables. In doing so, we return a oneness to the world--one for which we all long.

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Rabbi Phil Miller

Rabbi Phil Miller is the vice president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. He attended Yeshiva University in New York City and previously was the director of the 92nd Street Y Bronfman Center for Jewish Life.