ויצא בן אשה ישראלית (ויקרא כד י). מהיכן יצא… ר' ברכיה אמר מפרשה של מעלה יצא, שנאמר ולקחת סולת ואפית אותה שתים עשרה חלות (ויקרא כד ה), אמר דרך המלך לאכול פת חמה, שמא צוננת
“The son of the Israelite woman went forth” Where did he come from? R Berekhya says “He went out because of the chapter above, where it is written: You will take flour and bake with it twelve loaves. He said ‘It’s the way of a king to eat hot bread. What does he want with the cold?’” — Tanhuma Emor
Our parasha finally says what to do with the Shulhan in the Mishkan and what the “Lehem haPanim (“showbread”) actually are. Apparently 12 large loaves are supposed to be baked Friday and left on the Shulhan from one Shabbat to the next. There was frankincense placed with them. Nothing but the frankincense is actually offered, yet the loaves themselves are described as fire offerings and therefore must be unleavened themselves.
The Midrash in Tahuma describes the blasphemer’s disgust with the lehem hapanim. The bread had to be baked before Shabbat. Then it sat out on the Shulhan for a week. Was this cold, stale bread fit for the King? Surely, he’d prefer hot bread. It seems from here that the Midrash does not consider the time the bread stands on the table as offering the sacrifice. Rather, the essence of the ritual is the eating next Shabbat. What purpose does the placing and eating serve? Was this man right to be confused about the bread?
It must be said that the sage Maimonides himself could not explain this command to lay out bread and have the priests eat them a week later. Yet, several others have tried to bring answers. Sforno suggests that Shulhan and Menora are about creating symbols to show that this is really a dwelling place for Gd, similar to how we provide those items in a human guest bedroom. The Meam Loez states that the Shulhan is to provide a space where Gd’s blessing on food can be manifest. According to this read, Gd only manifests blessings through physical objects, so the Leham Hapanim is there so that there will always be food in the Mikdash ready to bless.
But my favorite reason, is from the ibn Ezra. In his poem Ki Eshmira Shabbat, he states that “Inscribed in the Divine Law is a precept to His priests. On it [Shabbat] should be arranged the Lehem Hapanim in his presence. Therefore, fasting on it is forbidden by His discerning ones.” What is the connection between placing the showbread out on Shabbat and forbidding fasting? It seems to me that ibn Ezra is suggesting that the fact that the Kohanim have to share a meal of bread every Shabbat is what indicated to the Hakhamim how important eating on Shabbat is. The splitting and eating of the bread is an essential part of the service, and it is one of the essential services on Shabbat.
We see from here that gathering around the Shabbat table for a meal is almost like a kobran itself. By discussing Torah around our shulhan, even and perhaps especially its most perplexing aspects, we elevate our meal closer to the memory of the Lehem Hapanim. We engage not in our physical and social fulfillment, but in a shared remembrance of the Mikdash and personal spiritual fulfillment.