Among the commandments in this week's parasha is the reminder to remain conscious of G‑d even when eating (Deut. 8:10-11). In the Zohar translation that follows, the soul of Moses teaches Rebbe Shimon the how to set up the right environment at a meal given in honor of the performance of a mitzvah, such as after a circumcision, or on completing a tractate of the Talmud etc. He starts by revealing the secret of the table.

He [the Faithful Shepherd Moses] opened his discourse with the quote: "You shall make a table of shittim wood [in the Tabernacle]…."(Ex. 25:23) The Masters of the dinner given in honor of the Queen had goodly and beautiful customs…

Come and see [picture the arrangement of the Tree of Life diagram of the sefirot], the Masters of the dinner given in honor of the Queen had goodly and beautiful customs. These showed that they were of the sons [who ate at] the King's table.

The customs of the sages relating to a festive meal where designed to raise consciousness and draw down the divine blessing and abundance from the level of Zeir Anpin to Malchut.

Firstly, the most honored ["gadol" in Hebrew] of the dinner company would wash his hands.

"Gadol" is one of the names of the sefira of chesed; a person is only as important as the amount of kindness that he does. In addition, the sefira of chochma, which is directly above chesed, releases its' bounty only to a person who has refined this quality. The one who is the representative of this sefira of chesed should wash first...

Washing the hands before eating symbolizes the banishment of the kelipot from the hands through the spilling of water, which represents chesed, over them. It is therefore appropriate that the one who is the representative of this sefira of chesed should wash first. He then lifts up his hands to draw down blessing from above upon them and says the blessing relating to the washing of the hands. He then waits for the rest of the company to wash, settling on a low couch that was arranged for him to recline on during the dinner.

And at the time when all would enter the dining room the most honored reclines at the head [of the couches because he represents a vehicle to receive the sefira of chochma]. The second [in learning, representing the sefira of bina,] sits next to [literally "below"] him, and the third [representing the sefira of daat] sits next to him. They are called "the three couches", to receive the three fathers and to [further receive] the Priests, Levites and Israelites.

In the Song of Songs(3:7), King Solomon is described as resting on his couch. The reference is to the sefira of malchut, which is like a couch on which all the higher sefirot descend to. The first of these sefirot are the intellectual ones, and this is hinted at by the reference to the "couch" of Solomon, the wisest of men. Those sitting on these three couches represent the sefirot of chesed, gevura and tiferet in Zeir Anpin.

These three sefirot in turn are actualized in the three lower sefirot, netzach, hod and yesod, referred to by the code "Priests, Levites and Israelites".

These three would meditate on drawing down the divine abundance onto the gathering, i.e. malchut from these six sefirot of Zeir Anpin.

From here on there is no [particular] order, rather whoever sits closest to them has that merit. His generous eye will stimulate a generous response in the spiritual world…

Secondly, the master of the house [makes the blessing on the bread and] slices the bread. This is so that he can slice it with a good eye, and complete the blessing, and slice up the loaf.

The host knows how much food he has for the guests. He should be generous, showing a "good eye" because this causes bountiful blessing to descend on the company. The phrase "good eye" is a code referring to the verse "He who has a generous eye shall be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor."(Prov. 22:9) And the sages say, "Don't read that he shall be blessed, rather that he should be the one to make the blessing."(Sota 38b) The reason is because his generous eye will stimulate a generous response in the spiritual world causing all to benefit from his blessing. He makes the blessing on the bread with this generous intention and then slices it in a generous manner for the company, serving the three representatives of higher consciousness first.

And as has been explained by the Masters of the Mishna (Berachot 47a), the diners have no permission to taste from the food until he who has made the blessing takes a bite, and he has no permission to eat until all of the diners have said "Amen" [to his blessing]. They represent the two letters hei, and the master of the house is the vav in the middle…

The host is parallel to The Master of the House (G‑d) and as such represents the conduit to draw down blessing on all the diners. At the same time, the response of "Amen" from the diners is an integral part of the blessing, so he must wait for them to respond before eating. By saying "Amen" the company is affirming that they are tuned into his blessing and wish to be part of it; they then become a vessel to receive it.

And if the host wishes to honor [one of the company with saying the blessing on the bread and slicing it], he is given the authority to do so.

We have further explained (Berachot 46a) that the guest [leads] the Blessing After the Meal because that contains the blessing of the master of the house.

The explanation in esoteric terms is that the phrase "the master of the house slices" refers to the middle line [of the sefirot in the Tree of Life]. This is the middle line [containing the sefira of tiferet in Zeir Anpin], and on Shabbat he needs to slice from [one of] two loaves. They represent the two letters hei, and the master of the house is the vav in the middle. In order not to make the guests appear to be gluttonous, he can give each guest a portion the size of an egg.

The holy name of G‑d is spelled yud, hei, vav, hei. The repetition of the letter hei hints at the related sefirot bina and malchut. The vav represents the six sefirot from chesed to yesod - and specifically to the sefira of tiferet that connects them all, bringing the higher consciousness of bina into malchut. The portion that the host gives out represents the yud of the name that always stands for chochma.

These table manners, that are still prevalent today at meals given in honor of the performance of a mitzvah, have deep and meaningful significance in drawing down abundant blessing on those who merit being there!

Zohar, parashat Ekev, p.271b; translation and commentary by Simcha-Shmuel Treister

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