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Holy Eating

Holy Eating

Insights Into Tu B'Shevat

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Run a search on food and Jewish culture on Google and you will get about 2,380,000 results, including one which starts with the observation that "Jewish culture is often associated in the popular imagination with food." For that matter, Jewish culture is often associated in the Jewish imagination with food- as are our spiritual beliefs and practices. It's difficult to even think about a Jewish holiday, any Jewish holiday, without thinking about a. what you eat that day or b. what you aren't allowed to eat on that day.

So where does this obsession come from?

Actually, there are some deep spiritual roots to the Jewish obsession with food- what, how, and when it should be consumed.

It is as if we have returned to the Garden of Eden When the first man and woman were created, Adam and Eve, they were given two explicit commandments: to eat from all the trees of the garden, and not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet, they ate from it. So the first sin committed in this world was a sin of improper eating. It was through this sin that the yeitzer hara (evil inclination) became a part of each of us, challenging us to this day with obstacles to our spiritual growth. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, an impurity was brought into the world as a whole as well.

On Tu'B'shvat we have a unique opportunity to fix all of that.

Rav Tsadok HaKohen (a Chassidic rebbe who lived in Poland, 1823-1900) explains that at our Tu'B'Shvat table we are reenacting what life was like for Adam and Eve before their sin, when they were fruitarians. When we sit before our Tu B'Shvat spread, our table filled with fruits of every sort, it is as if we have returned to the Garden of Eden, and are fulfilling the one explicit positive commandment that we received there- one of the most ancient commandments in the Torah. It's really pretty awesome in its simple way.

Yet how do we account for the negative commandment of not eating from the Tree of Knowledge? Especially since many of the fruits of our table are suspected of being of the same species as the infamous forbidden Tree of Knowledge. One opinion says it was a fig tree, another says it was a grape vine (which actually was a tall tree in the Garden of Eden, but was lowered to a vine by the sin of Adam and Eve), another opinion says that it was wheat…. In fact, for each of the seven species of fruit associated with the Land of Israel, all of which are eaten on Tu B'shvat, there is an opinion that it is the species of the forbidden tree.

It seems like when we sit down to eat fruits on Tu B'shvat, we're doing the same thing Adam and Eve did- we're obeying the positive commandment while violating the negative one. It can't be that we are brazenly disobeying G‑d's command and eating specifically from the Tree of Knowledge (i.e. olives, dates, etc) and calling it a mitzvah.

We take the gift and leave the Giver behind Rav Tsadok explains that the Tree of Knowledge was all of the seven species and none of them at the same time. He explains that the Tree of Knowledge was not one species of fruit as opposed to another- it was not a thing at all but a way of doing something- a way of eating. Whenever a person grabs pleasure from the world, he falls spiritually and it is as if he is eating from the Tree of Knowledge. What does it mean to grab pleasure? It means to get so distracted by the pleasure of consumption that we forget about our Creator. We take the gift and leave the Giver behind.

When we eat the many fruits associated with the Tree of Knowledge on Tu B'shvat and do so with consciousness of our Creator, that in itself is a rectification of what happened in Garden of Eden.

Based on a tradition from the Sefer Yetzira, the world's oldest work of Kabbalah, we all know that the Hebrew month of Shvat is a time when there is a unique opportunity to rectify our relationship with food and with pleasure in general.

This is expressed in the passage which states: "G-d made the letter tsadik rule over indulgent eating, the month of Shvat and the gizzard in the soul."

Our striving toward righteousness is deeply connected with how we eat The word used for eating is l'eita , and not achila . L'eita is more gluttonous. It's the word that Esau uses when he comes in from the field, famished, and asks Jacob to "stuff some of the red stuff you're cooking down my throat." For these words, his generations carry the name Edom (related to adom, "red"), to this day.

Since the month of Shvat is associated both with the letter צדי , (which the Zohar always refers to as צדיק) , and with indulgent eating (i.e. eating without consciousness of the Creator, the sin of the Tree of Knowledge) it is clear that our striving toward righteousness is somehow deeply connected with the rectification of consumption- which is related to how we eat. The Sefer Yetzira is letting us know that a tsadik (righteous individual) is someone who has rectified his or her eating. Eating, or l'eita, as it is used in ancient texts, is much more than simply taking food into one's mouth- material acquisition; honor-seeking; addiction to power, praise, drugs, or even attention – these are also forms of achila "eating". Nevertheless it seems that all these other ways of metaphorically "eating", or consuming, are encapsulated in our literal consumption of food.

And although this striving to rectify eating is a practice and awareness that we should bring to every meal of the month (or year, for that matter) Tu B'shvat is an especially propitious opportunity to work on eating in the right way and with the right mindset and awareness.

On Tu B'shvat, we have a special opportunity to rectify Adam and Eve's sin. We also have an extra tool to rectify our relationship with food which Adam and Eve did not have, a tool available year-round: the blessings which we recite over food both before and after eating- which serve to anchor our every meal and snack in an awareness of G‑d. Even if we get distracted by the pleasure of the eating itself, we surround the act with an awareness of G‑d as Creator and Giver.

Ideally, in the moments of our chewing, tasting, enjoying, and swallowing the fruits, we should close our eyes and give genuine thanks to the Creator of the world.

It is as if we are transported back to the Garden of Eden, and are given the opportunity to revisit that fateful event, and this time to do it right. It's a therapeutic process, an opportunity for deep soul fixing. But this time, by fulfilling both commandments we bring a powerful healing to that first root of all sin, which is also the root of disease, imbalance and neurosis in the universe, and give ourselves the opportunity to partake of and enjoy the pleasures of this world without being consumed by them.

Sarah Schneider is the author of the books Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine and Eating as Tikkun, as well as numerous journal articles. She is the founding director of A Still Small Voice, a correspondence school that provides weekly teachings in classical Jewish wisdom to subscribers around the world, and lives in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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Discussion (4)
January 24, 2013
Praise the giver not the gift!
This was a great comment on the matter of Holy Food and beliefs. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire article.
As a gentile believer in Messianic faith I have come to value the teachings of Torah and the Jewish Way in dietary matters. For a while I wondered what the obession with food and feasts was all about. Just as with Christmas, Easter, and other holidays in the gentile world food and candy became the fat makers and not so much the Priase makers.
I kept the Biblical clean and unclean foods and (have turkey bacon and never have liked even the smell of pork or ham). I have learned of the selections for Jewish meals around certain feasts of the year. It became clear to me of not only the foods chosen, but having knowledge of Seasonal Eating and what foods are best at certain times of the year for specific aid to the body; it then became clear of Holy Day foods.
Then the greatest gift Chabad ever gave me was the prayers over the meals. PRAISE THE GIVER and not the Gift.
Anonymous
North Carolina
January 29, 2010
MAY HASHEM BLESS YOUR LIFE....
The spiritual goal for all needs we have in our body are the real essence of ourselves in this world...and people like you who help us to discover and understand it are valious treasures from G-d Almighty and little parts of light from the heaven.
Anonymous
Bogota, Colombia
February 21, 2009
a new perception
Hello, I am not jewish but recently have found myself drawn to your way of life and this way of eating has brought me to the realization that I can at times forget to give G-d thanks for even the gift of food, not realizing that I eat by His grace because many go hungry at night and I have the blessing of food regularly. Thank you for showing me this, I appreciate your teaching
Suzanne carson
merritt island, florida
February 10, 2009
Taking the Gift...
"Taking the gift but leaving the giver behind." sums up so well my new relationship with G-d and my new found Jewish faith. I have recently come back to Judaism now that my son is in Hebrew School and the most profound thing that's hit me since is how grateful I am to Hashem for the everyday miracles I once took for granted. Our prayers thanking G-d every morning for the new day lead to little prayers of thanks throughout the day and a new appreciation for all that we have been given. I now find so much joy in little things and my gratitude and higher awareness of every blessing large and small has strengthened my relationship with, awareness of, and appreciation for G-d. I now understand the importance of praying upon waking more than ever before! Thank you for putting words to my thoughts!
Stephanie M. Virginia Beach, VA
Virginia Beach, VA
chabadoftidewater.com