As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page) the shulhan or table in the Temple was considered to be a utensil that could contract ritual defilement because it was occasionally removed from the Temple and shown to the pilgrims. At least part of the reason that a utensil may or may not be subject to the laws of ritual defilement depend of what it is made of, and the Gemara on today’s daf discusses how the shulhan which was made of wood that was plated with gold, should be viewed.
“The altar, three cubits high, and the length thereof two cubits, was of wood, and so the corners thereof; the length thereof, and the walls thereof, were also of wood; and he said unto me: ‘This is the table that is before the LORD.'”
This is understood to clarify that the table was viewed as a wooden utensil, even though the wood was not visible.
Having quoted the passage from Sefer Yehezkel, the Gemara asks why he began his description by talking about the altar and then finished by talking about the table. In response, both Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Elazar suggest that this teaches that just as the altar served as the place of atonement when the Temple stood, so our tables serve that purpose today, after the destruction of the Temple.
Rashi explains this teaching as referring to hakhnasat orhim – welcoming guests to your table – that such generosity and compassion offers atonement. According to the Maharsha, this should be understood as referring to someone who limits his food for the sake of Heaven (e.g. as a memorial to the destruction of the Temple). Some, basing themselves on the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 3), suggest that the words of Torah shared at a meal turns the table into an altar that offers atonement.