Soul Food

Sex is a physical desire not a physical need. By physical need, I mean things without which we die. Humans have only three physical needs—air, water, and food. We cannot ignore our need for each. We live only a few minutes without air, a few days without water and weeks without food.

Our need for air, water and food seems boring. Imagine a television show about breathing. “Tonight we bring you exclusive footage about sampling three different kinds of air; mountain, coastal, and desert.” No way! How about a cable channel devoted to drinking water? That’s ridiculous. And a network devoted to eating? What a silly idea!

But wait! There is more than one network devoted to food! Cooking shows abound with names like Paula Deen, Gordon Ramsay, Giada de Laurentiis, Nigella Lawson, and Emeril Lagasse who are part of the glamorous world of celebrity chefs and cooking shows.

There are few books or magazines about breathing air or drinking water. But plenty of books and magazines are printed about food and cooking. Food is fascinating. On some level, we find eating food to be much more significant than breathing air and drinking water. Our physical need for food is weaker than our need for air and water. Therefore we must be feeling a spiritual connection with food.

Question: Where in the Bible is the verse: “Behold I have given you air to breathe and water to drink”?

Answer: Nowhere.

The Five Books of Moses don’t encourage breathing air or drinking water. However, before we get fifty verses into the Torah’s 5,845 verses we encounter these two sentence:

And God said, ‘Behold I have given to you all herbs yielding seed…

every tree bearing fruit…these shall be yours for food.’

(Genesis 1:29)

And HaShem God commanded man saying,

‘From all the trees of the garden you shall surely eat.’

(Genesis 2:16)

Later, when Abraham encountered what he assumed were three pagans, instead of preaching to them about God and monotheism, he fed them. (Genesis 18:2-8)

When Isaac wished to bless his son, he first requested food to eat. (Genesis 27:4)

When Jacob bought the birthright from his brother, Esau, he paid with food. (Genesis 25:31-34)

Of the 613 divine commandments in the Torah, none pertain to breathing air or drinking water, but over 30 concern eating.

The main observances of Passover, the most celebrated Jewish festival in America, involve eating and mankind’s first sin was eating.

Evidently, eating food possesses significance way beyond physically keeping ourselves alive. Instead of pouring a can of vegetables down our throats, we prefer to sit at a linen covered table. Instead of grabbing at the food with our fingers, we prefer to use utensils. Instead of lowering our mouths to the plates we prefer to raise the food to our mouths. All these preferences point to our recognition of the spiritual dimension to food.

To eat healthily we must feed both our spiritual hunger and our physical hunger. Our bodies extract physical nourishment from food without our conscious involvement but we must learn to extract spiritual nourishment as well. When that is missing, we subconsciously keep eating more and more trying to fill the void.

Here are four strategies from ancient Jewish wisdom to help us wrap eating in holiness and extract maximum benefit from each morsel rather than going for quantity.

  • Utter an appropriate blessing before eating then recite: “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalms 145:16)
  • Avoid eating alone. Intersperse every mouthful and every course with conversation.
  • Train yourself to eat far more slowly than you now do.
  • Say a grace after the meal.

And about those television food shows? Exercise while watching.

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