Chagiga 27: Modern Day Altar

The last pages of Chagiga argue about the status of the altar and table in the Temple. The discussion is whether these items are in essence “wood” or does the gold plaiting makes them different and subject to Tumah. Frankly it is complicated.

But out of nowhere the Talmud pulls out a beautiful thought. To bolster the argument that its essence is wood it quotes a section of Ezekiel :The altar is wood three amos high and and the angel said This is the Table of Hashem.” The Talmud asks why switch from altar to table. The answer given is pricelesss. During the time of the temple, the altar atones for our sins. During our day, our home table when we bring in guests and the needy atones for our sins.

This is a pretty radical thought. Atonement switches from ritual to acts of kindness. The message is simple. Our religious observance is rooted in acts of charity and kindness.

This is the nicest ending of all.

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