Saturday, April 15, 2006

From the mountain to the table

Pesachim 88a

And R’ Elazar said: What is the meaning of that which is written: Many peoples will go and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the House of the God of Jacob etc.? [Isaiah 2:3] Why does the verse specify the God of Jacob? Is the Temple only the house of the God of Jacob, and not also the house of the God of Abraham and Isaac?! Rather, the verse teaches that the Temple is not like the description found in the context of Abraham, concerning whom it is written “mountain,” [Genesis 22:14] as it is stated: like it is said today, “On the mountain Hashem is seen.” And it is not like the description found in the context of Isaac, concerning whom it is written “field,” – as it is stated: Isaac went out to pray in the field. [Genesis 24:63] Rather, it is like the description found in the context of Jacob, who called it “house,” – as it is stated: He named that place “the House of God.” [Isaiah 28:19]

One of the many interpretations of this aggadah (story) is that each of the patriarchs and their images (mountain, field and house) symbolize their own paths, their own ways, their own places of communing with Hashem/God. As the Rabbis say, at first Abraham’s path was one like a mountain – very difficult to follow for most people. Isaac made things more accessible by making this place to meet God like a field, but it was still not close to everyone. It was only Jacob who made the path focused on the house, thus bringing this path, this spiritual journey right into the home, into a far more accessible and secure location.

What if we placed Jesus into this story and ask, “How did Jesus make this path, this journey even more accessible and universal?” Perhaps the image for Jesus would be the “table” – which is even more accessible and universal than a house, since it is not just for those who are within the house, but for anyone who sits down at the table and shares a meal.

Perhaps we can learn from this that the spiritual journey, which is so often described esoterically as a path up the mountain (many paths, of course, up this mountain), is just as easily found at the table, at the moment we share a meal and break bread with another. Clearly, there is something so exciting and thrilling about seeing the path to God as a long and challenging journey up a mountain, while imagining our vision and understanding expanding and getting “closer” to God as we progress higher and higher. And while seeing the place of meeting God as the table, which Jesus shared with so many, certainly has a different feeling of “importance” and “exclusivity,” it may be a path that is even more challenging than a lonely climb up the mountain.

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