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On the shulchan you shall place the showbread before me always. (Shemos 25:30).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the lechem hapanim. On the northern side of the mishkan stood the shulchan with an arrangement of twelve loaves of bread. The Gemarah (Menachos 94b) presents a dispute as to the exact shape of the breads. According to Rebbi Channinah the breads were fashioned in the shape of open box. This is simply understood to means that they were square in appearance. Rebbi Yochanan disagrees and holds that they were fashioned in the shape of a swift ship. This is simply understood to mean that they were round in appearance. The Gemarah details the differences between the two opinions in both the shape of the breads and how they were supported on the shulchan. What concepts do these different shapes symbolize?
The Hebrew word used by Rebbi Channinah for a box is “teivah.” It is noteworthy that this same word is used by the Torah to describe the ark built by Noach. The ark of Noach is defined by the Torah as a teivah and not a ship. Both a taivah and a ship are similar in that they are vessels that float on the sea; however, there is a major difference. The primary function of a ship is transportation whereas; the primary function of a taivah is survival. Noach’s taivah was a self-sufficient structure that provided the needs for all the individuals and animals for one year. The teivah of Noach was not designed to travel anywhere; its function was solely to provide safe haven for Noach, his family and the animals during the mabul.
Chazal teach us that the purpose of the shulchan is to remind us that Hashem provides material support to mankind. Man’s continued existence is dependent upon a constant flow of material support. The shulcah reminds us that Hashem provides this support.
There are people whom Hashem blesses with an abundant measure of material blessing, whereas others are destitute and worry from where their next meal will come. Many find themselves somewhere in the middle. Each extreme has spiritual dangers. The wealthy are in danger of becoming haughty and forgetting that their blessing comes from Hashem. Furthermore, they are in danger of failing to fulfill their moral responsibility of assisting the less fortunate. On the other hand the poor are in danger of harboring bad feelings towards Hashem for their pitiful state. The shulchan teaches us that wherever one’s standing in this spectrum, he must recognize that material sustenance comes from Hashem. The wealthy view the shulchan as a reminded not to forget Hashem and their moral responsibly to the less fortunate. The poor view the shulcan as a symbol of faith and hope that their fortune will reverse for the better.
We may suggest that Rebbi Channinah who says that the breads are shaped like a box focuses on the wealthy whose material sustenance is comparable to the teivah. The people and animals in the teivah had nothing to worry about; all their needs were provided for by Noach. When one is blessed to find himself in such a situation, the shulchan serves as a reminder not to forget Hashem.
Rebbi Yochanan who says that the breads are shaped like a ship focuses on the poor individual. In contrast to the self-sufficient taivah which floats aimlessly, a ship is a vessel that travels the seas to engage in commerce. Chazal commonly use a ship as a symbol of those who must travel great distances at great risk to their lives to provide sustenance for themselves and their families.
The breads of the shulchan may be fashioned in as shape of a ship or box. The shulchan covers the entire spectrum of material blessing. Each person can find a message in the showbreads that relates to his material standing.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004