Soul Food

You are how you eat

I understand how someone who is hungry might dream of food, fixate on food and find it hard to concentrate on anything but food. Amazingly, Jewish women trapped by the Nazis in the Theresienstadt ghetto shared recipes with each other from memory. One woman wrote these down and her compilation of recipes survived the war even though most of the malnourished women did not.

But in well-fed (even overly well-fed) cultures, we still seem to be obsessed with food. Whether it is cooking channels or foodie experiences, we also dream and fixate on food. People who cannot name four Supreme Court Justices can name four famous chefs!

At the very beginning of Genesis, we encounter these two sentences:

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 on the Adam saying,
‘From all the trees of the garden eat, you shall eat.’
(Genesis 2:16)*

References to food and instructions for what and how to eat abound throughout the Bible. When Abraham encounters what he assumes are three pagans, instead of immediately preaching to them about God and monotheism, he first feeds them. (Genesis 18:2-8)

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

Food makes an appearance in the conflict between Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:29-34) and throughout the story of Joseph and his brothers. Over 30 commandments in the Torah pertain to eating. What is going on?

For human beings, eating possesses significance way beyond just keeping ourselves alive. As a society we used to recognize that sitting at a linen covered table was preferable to pouring a can of vegetables down our throats. We knew that using utensils was a step up from grabbing at the food with our fingers. We knew that dinner conversation was as important as the actual items on our plates. All these preferences pointed to our recognition of the spiritual dimension to food. Not surprisingly, as our society became more materialistic and removed God from the equation, some of these ideas began to sound quaint.

But our bodies and souls are connected. When we starve our souls, we also damage our bodies. To eat healthily we must feed both our spiritual hunger and our physical hunger. When the spiritual dimension of eating is missing, we are subconsciously impelled to keep eating more or, perversely, we turn away from food or harm our bodies in other ways in an effort to fill the void.

Did you note the language of the translation of Genesis 2:16 above? While English translations often say, “you shall surely eat,” the Hebrew actually says “eat, you shall eat.”* I explain this verse more deeply in Scrolling through Scripture Unit 2, but you already have a hint at the depth of the words. God didn’t suddenly take a poetic flight of fancy, repeating Himself. There is a repetition of the instruction to eat from the fruit of the garden, because there are two distinct dimensions to eating; we eat to satisfy both our spiritual and physical selves.

What steps can you take to feed your own and your family’s spiritual self at mealtime? In addition to making a blessing over the food, prepare conversation topics, mind games, or articles to share. God’s word is always available to use and discuss. Just as it takes time to wash and cook some broccoli, it takes time to get ready for an uplifting meal. Electronics have no place at the table.

If you are alone, push out of your comfort zone and once or twice a week invite others to share a meal. They don’t need to be close friends—reach out to the widow or single in your office. Two individuals produce warmth and fellowship that is more important than the main course. When you are by yourself, set the table and eat properly as befits your status as a child of God. Find a good book that you read only during meals and let the author be your dinner companion. The farmer measures the quantity and quality of the food he is offering his animals; that is only the starting point for humans.

See the reference in our recommended Bible:

*Genesis 2:16 – P. 6, 13th line, 5th and 6th words from the right.

…From all the trees of the garden eat, you shall eat.
 תאכל מכל עץ הגן אכל

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