Program Note: With Scouts and parents at home for a few weeks, how about working on your religious emblems. Cub Scout emblems are a great family activity. Scouts BSA and Venturing emblems can double as scholarly activities. For more information, workbooks and applications see https://www.jewishscouting.org/awards-and-emblems/
For weeks we’ve been learning about the Mishkan (Tabernacle) – how it was to be built, what vessels were to go in it, how the kohanim (priests) were to dress and how Moses was to anoint the kohanim and inaugurate the services.
The services to be held in the Mishkan and later in the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple) that replaced it were different kinds of offerings, generally to atone for one’s sins. This is what the week’s parasha, Vayikra, describes for us.
For some sins, the offering was an animal, such as a bull, a ram or a dove. In some cases, the offering was grain. By permitting doves and grain to be offered, which were less expensive than bulls and rams, poor people were able to bring offerings. For most offerings, part of it was burned on the Mizbeiach (Altar) and the rest was given to the kohanim for them and their families, because the kohanim had no lands to farm. All of these offerings were salted as part of their preparation.
The First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE (about 2,600 years ago), and the Jews were forced to go to Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel, a member of a priestly family, was one of them. In one of his prophecies he had a vision of the Temple of the future as shown to him by a guide. Ezekiel described the Mizbeiach: “The Altar, three cubits high, and the length thereof two cubits, was of wood, and so the corners thereof; the length thereof, and the walls thereof, were also made of wood; and he said to me: ‘This is the table that is before the Lord.’ ” (Ezekiel 41:22).
The rabbis of the Talmud explained the statement that the Mizbeiach “is the table that is before the Lord.” They noted that the verse opens with “altar” and finishes with “table” (meaning a dinner table). Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eleazar explained that as long as the Temple stood, the Altar atoned for Israel, but now a person’s table atones for him. (Berachot 55a).
There are several similarities to the services in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) and our dinner tables. Just as the priests ate part of the sacrifice, we eat the food that is served at our table. We use it as an opportunity to thank God when we say the blessings over the food we eat. If we have bread, we salt it in remembrance of the salting of the offerings at the Altar. Many people take a few minutes to study Torah at the end of a meal.
These things are all good ways to worship God, which is a way to atone for things we may have done wrong. That’s between each of us and God. But we can go beyond that, and honor God by using our dinner table to be kind to other people. We do this when we invite people in need to eat with us, such as someone who does not have enough to eat, or is ill or elderly and finds it difficult to make their own food, or is lonely and could use the warmth and lively conversation of a family meal.
While we are practicing social distancing to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus, we are not able to invite others to eat with us. We can do a similar kindness to people by reaching out to them with a phone call or a social media chat. Older members of your family would love to have a video visit with you.
So turn your computer into a temple, and make the world a better place.