Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent” (Isaiah 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G‑d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: This is the table that is before G‑d” (Ezekiel 41:22).
The verse, “This is the table that is before God” was said over the altar in the Temple. From this the sages learned that “as long as the Temple exists, the altar atones for Israel. Presently, while we do not have a Temple, a person’s table atones for him.” The Gemara explains that the table atones for a person when he hosts poor people at his meals, while our Mishnah says that the loftiness of the table is when words of Torah are spoken around it.
The commentaries on the Mishnah state that reciting the Grace after Meals is enough to be considered a table around which words of Torah were spoken. The Tosfot Yom Tov, however, disagrees, saying that the entire tractate of Avot consists of thoughts that are above and beyond the letter of the law, while the Grace after Meals is a complete obligation! How then, could performing an obligatory mitzvah suffice as words of Torah?
In order to reconcile the various explanations, let us contemplate the Chassidic explanation for this Mishnah. Kabbalah explains that when the world was created, sparks of holiness were scattered throughout and entrapped in impure physicality. Our duty is to rectify this situation by ‘gathering’ the sparks and restoring them to holiness.
How do we gather sparks? First, the very fact that we are attracted to something reveals that it contains a holy spark that vitalizes it and makes it attractive – calling upon us to ‘gather’ it. If we ignore the Divine spark concealed in an attractive material experience, and fall instead into the depths of the material experience alone, we ‘bury’ the spark. We must understand that it is God who is calling us with this attractiveness and analyze the experience within the framework of our service of God. If the item or experience is forbidden, its rectification or gathering is to distance it. If it is permissible, we can gather it by utilizing it for service of God.
For example, when we eat something in order to expand our consciousness of God and His Torah, the spark within the food rises to holiness and fulfills its purpose. This is why our sages say, “A person will have to give an accounting of everything that his eye scouted and he did not eat.” If he ignored it, he did not uplift the spark inside it to holiness – and he will have to account for that.
When a person eats in this manner, even if he simply recited the Grace after Meals with expanded consciousness because of the food that he ate, he has restored that spark to its source. God is happy with the spark that returns to Him after thousands of years of distance, and He includes the person who uplifted the spark as a diner at His table, “as if he has “eaten at G‑d’s table.” But if a person simply wolfs down his food and recites a perfunctory Grace after Meals, it is not sufficient to rectify his table…