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Can I Have Some Food, Please?

Can I Have Some Food, Please?

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Some kids are into candy, others like chocolates, but when my sister was a little girl all she ever wanted was marble cake.

Our parents were generous with their treats, but it's not healthy for a child to forswear vegetables and meat for empty carbohydrates, so they rationed her indulgences and only doled out her favorite snack for special occasions. It quickly became a regular game in our household: my mother would bake cake for Shabbat and hide it somewhere around the house and my sister would find it and eat as much as she could, as quickly as possible, before being caught and, inevitably, rebuked.

Was my sister's self-serving rationale any more ridiculous than what we all do on a daily basis?One time they left me babysitting while the rest of the family was out of the house. Before she left, my mom warned my sister: "You're not to take any marble cake without asking." Unfortunately, I got caught up in a good book and wasn't paying due attention to my duties. It was only some 20 minutes later when I became conscious of the fact that the house had been too quiet for a while. I wandered into the kitchen and saw a half-empty cake pan on the countertop, with a begrimed and be-crumbed little girl teetering on a chair in front, carving out her 5th or 6th huge chunk of cake.

When I challenged her, she swore she hadn't done anything wrong. "Mummy said I wasn't allowed to have anymore without asking, and before I took each piece I asked G‑d if I could have it!"


Was my sister's self-serving rationale any more ridiculous than what we all do on a daily basis? The stated reason for reciting a blessing before indulging is that all food belongs to G‑d and that partaking of His bounty without requesting permission is analogous to stealing.

But you've got to ask, what does your blessing really accomplish? So you said a blessing and asked G‑d for some of His food—did you get an answer? Isn't it still His, no matter how nicely you asked? What does muttering a few Hebrew words before partaking really accomplish?

We Belong to You

The book of Leviticus discusses the privileges and responsibilities of the Priesthood. Kohanim (priests) are special, public servants. As such, they're supported off the public purse and enjoy a varied menu of public hand-outs and private donations. While some of these gifts may be shared with whomsoever the kohen wishes, most of them are considered holy, and are restricted to kohanim and their immediate families. No matter how religious or holy I am, or how friendly I get with my neighboring kohen, he's not allowed to invite me over to share his food.

The exclusion to this exclusivity is the servants belonging to the kohen. Even though they are not of priestly stock and in fact they're not even Jewish, they get dragged in on their master's coattails and get to partake of all the holiness—while the rest of us Jews stand outside looking in. How extraordinary a concept; the food and offerings might be intrinsically holy, but since a master has responsibility to feed his own servants, they can partake of his pleasures.

A blessing is not just a mealy-mouthed request for indulgenceAnd that's one of the reasons why we recite blessings before eating. When we say a blessing we announce "Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam...""G‑d is our G‑d, King of the universe." We're His servants. He made us. We belong to Him.

A blessing is not just a mealy-mouthed request for indulgence, but an acknowledgement that we and everything we own belong to Him. When we submit to G‑d's authority and accept Him as our lord and master, then we know that we have His permission to enjoy the fruits of this world—and even to come back for second helpings of holiness.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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