Prayer, i.e. our thanks, praises, and petitions to G‑d is part of what is called "Avodat Hashem", service of G‑d, as is our eating and drinking when it is designed to help us serve G‑d better. Nowadays, our table fulfills the mystical dimensions of what used to be the Temple service…
Nowadays, our table fulfills the mystical dimensions of what used to be the Temple service. Instead of the sacrificial offerings being consumed at the altar, we consume our meals after and before benedictions expressing our awareness of He Who supplies our needs.
We become like angels when the food we consume is of the right kind and we consume it in a state of sanctity. Just as physical food gives us our continued existence on earth, so do our souls serve as "sustenance" for the angels and assure their continued existence. We know that the angels need to feed on something, as is written, "You provide sustenance for them all." (Nehemiah 9:6)
Human beings' consumption of food, however, can become similar to the spiritual forces released by the offering of sacrifices. This is the reason why the Torah links the saying of Blessing After the Meal to the gift of Eretz Israel and its goodness (Deut. 8:10). The reference is not to terrestrial Eretz Yisrael. [If this were so, why should we have to say the Blessing After the Meal for food consumed in the Diaspora? Ed.] The mystical element involved is that the celestial Eretz Yisrael is perceived as the top of the domains of the emanations, the tenth sefira of Atzilut. The overriding consideration to remember is that sacrificial service was an expression of our reverence for G‑d
The Zohar in the Parashat Ekev (Sulam edition page 18), describes the ten rules governing the way in which we must consume our meals as an allusion to this tenth sefira. [These rules are based on the Shabbat Eve meal. Ed.] The ten rules comprise:
1) washing one's hands
2) preparing two whole loaves of bread
3) consuming three meals [in the course of Shabbat]
4) lighting a candle on the table to symbolize the candles in the Temple which stood next to the table with the showbreads
5) the benediction of VaYechulu ("…the heavens and the earth were completed…") over a cup of wine
6) speaking words of Torah during the meal
7) ensuring that poor people are invited to the meal
8) washing one's hands prior to reciting Grace
9) reciting the Blessing After the Meal
10) drinking the wine of the cup upon which the Blessing After the Meal was recited.
[The author may have intimated a subsequent part of the Zohar in which ten rules are listed governing eating on weekdays, including such details as which hand to wash first, which hand has to raise the bread, not to eat hastily, etc. Ed.]
Just as there are ten rules, pertaining to eating, there are also the laws governing the way the cup of wine over which the Blessing After the Meals is said is to be held, to be drunk, etc. The important thing to remember is that our eating is the substitute for the sacrifice and our table is the substitute for the altar. The overriding consideration to remember is that sacrificial service was an expression of our reverence for G‑d.
[Translated by Eliyahu Munk.]