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
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
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
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.