The tradition of rabbinic learning teaches its students to be attuned to the minutest details in a text in order to cull its meaning. No detail is too small, no lacunae insignificant and no seeming redundancy superfluous. All of these open up possible means for infusing the text of the Torah with meaning or to divulge its relevance. This attachment of meaning to every detail still forms the basis of classical Jewish study to this day. This week’s haftarah focuses on the details of the service of the Temple priests when the Temple is reestablished. It recounts the details of their clothing, whom they should marry, how they might become ritually impure and how they might purify themselves. It also says something of their manner of service and their service on festive days. Among the details of their service in the Temple, it states: “They (the priests) shall enter into My Sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table.” (verse 16) Regarding their service on festive occasions, Ezekiel adds: “and they shall keep My laws and My statutes in all My festive seasons and they shall maintain the sanctity of My Sabbaths.” (verse 24)
Rabbi Zadok HaKohen from Lublin (19th-20th century), one of the last of the great Hassidic masters of Eastern Europe, noted what for him seemed odd about the formulation of these two sentences. Why, he asked, does Ezekiel focus exclusively on the “table” when there all sorts of other rituals in the Temple (incense, for instance). In addition, he thought it peculiar that Ezekiel would need to mention Shabbat since Shabbat observance was incumbent upon every Jew, not just the Cohanim (priests).
I make no claim that Reb Zadok’s answers to the questions that he has posed come close to Ezekiel’s origin meaning. Still, he builds a fascinating and significant message from what he sees as textual idiosyncrasies. He asserts that the priests were specially tasked to sanctify Shabbat. They did this, in part, by baking twelve breads (lechem hapanim – shewbreads) which remained on a special table in the Temple for a whole week until they were consumed on the following Shabbat. Through this uniquely joyous act, the priests consecrated Shabbat.
Each of these loaves represented one of the tribes of Israel, so that when the priests carried out their actions, they symbolically involved the entire Jewish people. Since there is no Temple in our day, our Shabbat tables become our “altars”. When we joyously celebrate Shabbat by baking hallah, preparing food and drink; when we sit at the Shabbat table and celebrate with song and Torah study, sharing our Shabbat joy with family and friends, guests and strangers, we parallel through our actions the deeds of the priests of old, sanctifying God, Shabbat and our lives. I can think of no more special way to raise divine sparks! (based on Pri Tzadik Emor).