Shulchan Lechem HaPanim (Table of the Showbread)
The Shulchan Lechem HaPanim is one of the keilim (vessels) found in the northeastern corner of the Kodesh (Holy) in the Heichal (Sanctuary) of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).
Structure: The Shulchan’s base is a four-legged table made of acacia wood covered in gold and surrounded by a gold molding. Attached to the table are four gold poles, two for each set of six loaves of bread. Attached to the four gold poles are twenty-eight gold half-reeds that compose the “shelves” on which ten out of the twelve loaves sit (two loaves sit on the table itself).
Function: The Shulchan is the kli (vessel) on which sit the twelve loaves of Lechem HaPanim (Showbread). These loaves, with a unique shape and thickness, are baked on Friday and placed on the Shulchan on Shabbat (the Sabbath). While these loaves are regularly called “bread”, they are in fact unleavened bread. The set of twelve loaves sits on the Shulchan for a week- from Shabbat to Shabbat- until they are switched out for the new bread. Before Shabbat, the Kohanim (priests) disassemble the poles of the Shulchan so that only the base table remains in position. The Kohanim replace the bread by pushing the old bread off of the Shulchan with the new bread, thereby ensuring that there is never a moment during which there is no bread on the Shulchan. This bread is then divided up amongst the Kohanim who are working in the Mikdash (Temple) on that Shabbat. Although the bread stayed on the table for a full week, the Talmud (Chagiga 26b) explains that the bread was taken off of the Shulchan in the same state as it was placed on the Shulchan. Commentators disagree as to precisely what this means, with some saying that the bread stayed warm all week long and others saying that the bread stayed soft all week long. In either case, the bread miraculously remained fresh for a full week.