Rabbeinu Bechaye notes that the letters spelling the word shitim are short for the words shalom, tovah, yeshuah, mechilah – peace, goodness, salvation, and forgiveness. This type of wood was also used in the Holy Ark and the altar, hinting to us that the Divine Service performed through these vessels was the source of brining down all of these blessings to the world.
In our day, however, when we unfortunately lack all of these items, what do we have in their stead through which we may merit the rewards and bounty that they brought? The Gemora in Chagiga (27a) derives from a verse in Yechezkel that in the absence of the Holy Temple, the generous opening up of a person’s table to serve the poor and other guests serves in lieu of the altar. The Gemora in Berachos (54b) adds that doing so is a merit for long life.
Reb Oizer Alpert cites the Rabbeinu Bechaye, who mentions the fascinating custom of the pious men of France who had their burial caskets built from the wood of their tables. This symbolizes their recognition that upon dying, none of their earthly possessions would be accompanying them and the only item they could take with them was the merit of the charity and hosting of guests that they performed in their lifetimes. In fact, the Minchas Cohen suggests that the letters in the word shulchan are abbreviations for shomer likevurah chesed nedivosayich – preserving for burial the kindness of your giving!