Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

The Torah portion of Teruma deals with the building of the Mishkan and the keilim (utensils). In this article I would like to share some rare insights into the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim (from sefer Meir Panim).

There is a little-known fact about the famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton – that he devoted a good portion of his life to studying the Beit HaMikdash and its components, believing the Beit HaMikdash was the prototype model of the universe. While to us in the Torah world that concept may not appear surprising – it is something we take almost for granted – the fact that a non-Jewish icon of science of the caliber of Newton came to this conclusion purely as a result of his scientific observation of the natural world, and not out of religious belief, is earth-shattering.


The truth is that commentators who predated Newton by hundreds of years, like Rabbeinu Bachye, stated the same thing: “It is known that the Mishkan and its utensils are all physical schematics that may be used to visualize spiritual schematics that resemble them” (R’ Bachyei, Shemot 25:9). Every facet of the Mikdash embodies a hidden depth that stretches to infinity, and every dimension, angle, orientation, material, location, etc., is anything but random. The Shulchan is no exception.

Let’s begin with its dimensions. Two amot long, one amah wide, and one and a half amot high (an amah is approximately 50cm, 20 inches, R’ Chaim Na’eh). Contrast this with the dimensions of the utensil immediately preceding it, the Aron HaBrit. The Aron’s dimensions are all “halves,” none is whole – two and a half in length, one and a half in width, and one and a half in height. The Shulchan has two “whole” dimensions (length and width) and one half dimension (height). The Kli Yakar says that the reason the dimensions of the Aron are “halves” is that nobody can ever achieve “wholeness” in the study of the Torah (symbolized by the Aron); there is always more to learn.

The Shulchan symbolizes material wealth, and everything connected with it relates to the morality of wealth and livelihood. There is a verse in parshat Ki Teitzei referring to honesty in business dealings, “You shall have a whole and just stone (even shleima vatzedek), you shall have a whole and just eifa measure (eifa shleima vatzedek), etc.” (Devarim 25:15). This refers to anyone who weighs merchandise – they should have accurate weights and measures and not cheat anyone. Not surprisingly, the gematria of Shulchan is “tzedek tzedek,” twice the word tzedek (just), referring to the “whole” length and width measurements of the Shulchan. On the other hand, the height measurement is not whole (one and a half amot); it is incomplete, to teach us that when we accumulate wealth (piling wealth higher and higher), we should never strive to achieve “wholeness” but we should rather be “happy with our lot” (Avot 4:1) even though it is incomplete (Meir Panim, pg. 138).

The material from which the Shulchan is made is cedar wood laminated with gold. The table top is a rectangular plate of wood coated above and below with gold, but not on the sides. If viewed from the side the wood is visible between the two thin layers of gold. Wood is a “living” substance; it is derived from trees that grow – they are not static, unlike gold, a metal that does not grow. The Shulchan is symbolic of the olam ha’asiyah (the industrious world). Unbridled and left to its own devices, the world of industry may appear to be a deity all its own. One only need look at the modern world of economics, which appears to be a force unto itself and which many in fact “worship” almost like a deity.

The Shulchan does not eliminate growth – at its heart it is a “growing” medium, cedar wood. However, the Shulchan places limits on the extent of growth, preventing the olam ha’asiyah from mutating into a kind of avodah zarah. The wood is exposed on the sides of the tabletop, but is not visible as it is covered and surrounded by a crown, a “zer,” symbolizing monarchy, that of a king (David HaMelech/Mashiach) and also the monarchy of Hashem, “for His is the monarchy, etc. (Tehillim 22, 29).”

The Shulchan is the only utensil that has a “fence” surrounding it, a “misgeret.” The saying is that “fences make good neighbors.” One of the central purposes of the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim is atonement for the sin of the Tree of Knowledge in Gan Eden. Just as Hashem “fenced” off the Tree of Knowledge and forbade Adam and Chava to eat from it, the Shulchan, symbolizing material wealth, is also fenced off, hinting to us that true wealth is not material but spiritual.

These are a few brief examples of many how every iota in the Mikdash embodies deeper meaning and symbolism and profound lessons in how to lead our lives.


Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Why does it say only regarding the Menorah, “Look and do like I have shown you on the mountain” (Shemot 25, 40) and not with any of the other utensils?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Where in the parsha does Hashem promise to protect us from pandemics like Covid? On the verse (Shemot 23:25) “And you shall serve Hashem your G-d and (H/we) will bless your bread and your water and I will remove illness from your midst,” Rabbeinu Bachyei says there are two kinds of illness. One is from within the body as a result of what we eat and drink and the other is from without, in the air and in the stars. Hashem’s promise is that if we serve Him, He will bless our food and drink that they will have healing properties to protect us from both types of illness. There is a seeming inconsistency in the grammar of the verse. It says “He will bless” but immediately after “I will remove.” Shouldn’t they both be “He” or both be “I?” Another interpretation of this is that if we ourselves bless (recite blessings to Hashem on) our food and water we “upgrade” them so they have the power to protect us from illness.


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.