A four-week window of Jewish holy days is approaching. I understand why we will spend more time in synagogue than usual. However, we will also spend more time at the dining room table. This isn’t a concession to human frailty; it is recognition of human greatness.
Ever since the start of our lives as babes suckling at our mothers’ breasts, eating provides us with not one, but two benefits. They are (i) physical nourishment and sustenance, and (ii) spiritual and emotional sustenance. The link between eating and emotion is well studied. Many of us have ‘comfort foods.’ Gloom and uncertainty are often banished by a meal that fills our heart as well as our stomach.
Have you ever wondered why so many young people nowadays suffer from eating disorders that were virtually unknown a generation or two ago? Surely the answer is the spiritual desert in which so many young people live. Eating disorders are more often treated by a psychologist than by a nutritionist because there is a powerful spiritual component to eating. In other words, food and faith go together.
Here is the first occurrence in Scripture of God issuing a commandment to man:
And the Lord God commanded the Adam saying, “Of every tree of the garden eat you must eat.” (Genesis 2:16)
Many English translations get it wrong by translating, “…of every tree of the garden you shall surely eat”
The original Hebrew does not say “surely”. Instead it repeats the commandment to eat. Here is what the Hebrew looks like:
מכל עץ הגן אכל תאכל
Reading from right to left, you will see five words. [From all] [the trees] [of the garden] [eat!] [you must eat].
You can see that the fourth and fifth words look very similar, distinguished only by the one letter prefix ‘you must’.
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s first explicit directive repeats the verb ‘to eat’ to tell us to perform two separate and distinct acts with every mouthful. We are to eat for both physical and spiritual reasons. That way we extract the full benefit from every morsel of food.
Our Creator surely knew that in the future scientists could find ways to fulfill our bodies’ needs through tablets or infusions, bypassing the fruits, vegetables and grains He provided for us. No! Machines need fuel. Humans need more than that; they must eat!
How weird is it that we absorb nutrition through the same facial orifice from which our voices emerge? Dedicated functionality seems to be God’s design. After all, we don’t smell and hear through our ears. Mouths are different.
Speech is a uniquely human function while eating is not. Sharing the same orifice reminds us to take care to eat in a uniquely human way—one that provides spiritual as well as physical nourishment. In this vein, we prefer not to eat alone and to show gratitude to God for our food by blessings before and after eating, as we’ve written on in previous Thought Tools. Festival days are the perfect opportunity to create one cohesive totality in our lives. Yes, we pray a little more. We also eat a little more, sharing that experience with God’s other children.
Some of us face the danger of thinking ourselves to be sophisticated animals, forgetting that we have been touched by God. Others of us face the danger of thinking of ourselves as angels—spiritual beings at war with our physical selves. The dining room table reveals the truth, providing a place where our true selves can shine.
We place emphasis during this month on starting our year off in the way we wish it to continue. We can’t realistically reach straight for the stars, but we can commit to reaching for growth – maybe that way we will reach the stars!