Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3:3

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רבי שמעון אומר, שלושה שאכלו על שולחן אחד, ולא אמרו עליו דברי תורה–כאילו אכלו מזבחי מתים, שנאמר “כי כל שולחנות, מלאו קיא צואה, בלי, מקום” (ישעיהו כח,ח).  אבל שלושה שאכלו על שולחן אחד, ואמרו עליו דברי תורה–כאילו אכלו משולחנו של מקום ברוך הוא, שנאמר “וידבר אליי–זה השולחן, אשר לפני ה'” (יחזקאל מא,כב

R. Shimon would say: Three who eat at a single table and do not say words of Torah are akin to those who eat from idolatrous offerings as it says “For all tables are full of filthy vomit and no pace is clean” (Yeshayahu 28:8). However, three who eat at a single table and say words of Torah are like those that partake from God’s table as it says: “This is the table that is before God” (Yechezkel 41: 22). (Avot 3:3)

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From CHABAD: On the surface, Rabbi Shimon’s message is simple and straightforward: utilize your mealtimes to share the wisdom of Torah.  This way, the mundane activity of eating becomes a lofty and G-dly endeavor.

But surely the same applies to a single diner or to many who eat scattered about the room. Why “three who eat”?  And why specifically when they eat at “one table”?  On a deeper level, Rabbi Shimon conveys the true significance of our need for food.

Hunger In Two Dimensions

The human being consists of two primary components: the physical body and the soul that gives it life and direction.  The same is true of every created thing: its physicality and substance is but its outer husk. Within is a “soul,” an inner, spiritual essence and significance.

Ultimately, the soul of the entire universe is one: the drive to fulfill its Creator’s will. At creation, this unified “soul” splintered into a myriad of individual “sparks” that now form the core of every created thing.

But unlike the human soul, who exercises will and choice, all other creatures are passive containers of their purpose and utility.  They depend upon man, the crown and apex of G-d’s creation, to develop and utilize them in accordance with the Creator’s design.  It is man to whom the Torah, which outlines this design, has been given, and it is man who has been granted the franchise and the tools to implement it.

So the soul of man descends into the trials and trappings of physical life in order to gain access to these “sparks of holiness”:  By investing itself within a physical body which will eat, clothe itself, and otherwise make use of the objects and forces of the physical universe, the soul redeems the “sparks” that they incorporate.  For when man utilizes something, directly or indirectly, to serve G-d’s will, he penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its function within the essence and purpose of existence.

This explains a most puzzling fact of life: Why is it that man derives life and sustenance from the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds?  How is it that the highest form of life is dependent upon these lower tiers of creation?

But in truth, man’s need of the nutrients that his environment provides him (and the many other material resources that sustain and enhance his life) is the manner in which these elements reach fulfillment.  When man makes positive use of the energy he derives from them, they become elevated to a station they could never attain on their own.  They become an integral part of a conscious, willful being who elects to serve the Almighty.  The meat of the beast, the grain in the bread, the water that quenches our thirst, these become the essence of an act of charity, an hour expended in the study of G-d’s wisdom, a feeling of love for G-d in prayer.

In this way, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch explained the verse: “The hungry and thirsty, in them does their soul wrap itself.”   A person desiring food may sense only his body’s hunger; but, in truth, his physical craving is the external expression of a deeper yen.  “Wrapped within” is his soul’s hunger for the sparks of holiness that are the object of his mission in life.

Three At One

When a person sits to eat there are three partners to the endeavor: his body, his soul, and the food–the vital glue that keeps body and soul together as a living organism.

But if his eating is dominated by the perspective of Torah, these “three who eat” do so at a single table.  Their eating is an act of unification, a revelation of the underlying oneness of creation and its connection to the One Creator.

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