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The Kabbalah of Nutrition

The Kabbalah of Nutrition

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Food and Energy

Let us look at the question, "why do you need to eat food?" from a deeper perspective. Most people (unfortunately) go about their daily routine of providing for their bodies what nature requires – eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. – without paying much attention to what these activities and functions mean on a spiritual plane. The questions that we need to ask are: Why did G‑d create me this way? Why do I have to eat in order to obtain energy?

The Torah teaches us that, "Man does not live on bread alone, but rather man lives on the word of the mouth of G‑d."1 In the Torah, the word "bread" refers to food in general, not just to bread. What the above verse is teaching us is that within the "bread" we eat is invested Divine life-force, and, moreover, that it is important for us to know that this life-force is coming directly from G‑d, the Creator and Sustainer of all life (and, indeed, of all reality). If we eat our food with this realization in mind, we can extract the Divine life-force or Divine spark that is the inner essence of the food. As a result, the level of nutrition—both physical as well as cognitive and spiritual nutrition—that we gain from the food will be much greater than if we eat without this realization in mind.

Every table on which we eat symbolizes the altar in the TempleBy burning food, the energy content is converted to heat. In the Jewish mindset, the burning of food immediately takes us to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where, every day, numerous sacrifices were burnt on the altar. The burning of a sacrifice would result in the elevation of the energy trapped in the sacrifice to a higher spiritual plane, dedicating it to holiness and purity. Though the Temple has not yet been rebuilt, the sages reveal that even today, every table on which we eat symbolizes the altar in the Temple upon which the sacrifices were burnt. Knowing that our table is symbolic of the altar and that the food we consume releases energy in a way similar to a sacrifice, adds a new dimension to our meals. Whenever we eat, we should have in mind that we are raising the energy of the food in offering to G‑d, i.e., that we intend to use the energy that we gain from the food to serve G‑d.

Only kosher food releases its energy in a manner conducive to serving G‑d, raising our consciousness level (if we so intend when eating) such that we can recognize G‑d's Presence in our lives and devote our lives to His service. In Hebrew, the language of creation, the word for "life," or "life-force," chaim, is related to the word for "heat," chom. The Baal Shem Tov used to place his hand on the heart of a child and bless him: "Be a warm Jew." In the Temple, fire would descend from heaven to consume the sacrifices offered on the altar. Likewise, when eating, we should have in mind to connect with the essence of this holy fire. In other words, when you connect with this fire that is always descending from heaven to grant life below, the result will be a warming of the heart, making it burn with desire to serve G‑d. The Baal Shem Tov used to send his disciples to observe how simple Jews eat with the pure, innate intention of "burning up" the energy in the food for G‑d.

Nutrients

The Torah classifies the basic needs of every human being into the following five categories:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter

These five categories correspond to various aspects of the Torah's mystical model of our psyche. Let us see how. When healthy, we are generally not conscious of our breathing air. Thus, air corresponds to our super-conscious faculty called the sefirah, or faculty, of crown. Water is likened to our faculty (or sefirah) of wisdom, which is responsible for providing us with new insights. Like water, which flows downhill from a high place to a low place, the insights of our wisdom flow down from their source in our super-conscious crown. Whereas air and water represent relatively unconscious or autonomous processes in the psyche, food represents ingestion and integration of external nutrients into our internal being. In the psyche, the integration of spiritual food, meaning the teachings of the Torah, is achieved by the faculty (or sefirah) of understanding. Clothing represents the emotive attributes of the psyche. Finally, shelter, that is, our home, represents our social nature. As human beings, we are family and community oriented. This requires us to bring out our potential for leadership which is associated with our faculty (or sefirah) of kingdom.

It is customary to picture such a correspondence in chart form, based on the traditional way of organizing the soul's faculties:

Crown (keter)
air

Understanding (binah)
food

Wisdom (chochmah)
water

Emotive faculties (loving-kindness thru foundation)
clothing

Kingdom (malchut)
shelter

The integration of spiritual food is achieved by the faculty of understandingWe can now recognize that among the six nutrients required by the body, water is a separate category (it corresponds to wisdom) from the other five (which correspond to understanding). Still, all six are necessary for the body's healthy functioning. In Kabbalah, we are taught that wisdom and understanding constitute an inseparable pair, which is why water and the other five nutrients are listed together. Wisdom is also known as the father principle (water) and understanding as the mother principle (the other five nutrients) of the psyche. While the father principle is essentially singular, the mother principle is described as complex and composed of five components. Wisdom and understanding (or the father and mother principles) correspond to the first two letters, yud and hei of G‑d's essential Name, Havayah (also known as the Tetragrammaton). The letter yud is described as a dimensionless point alluding to wisdom being essentially singular and corresponding to water as a category in itself. The numerical value of the letter hei is 5, thus providing us with another allusion to the five nutrients that correspond to understanding and the mother principle.

In Kabbalah, the five components of the mother principle, or understanding, subdivide into three and two. The five nutrients subdivide in a similar way: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats form one subdivision; vitamins and the minerals form the second.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, commonly known as sugars (sweets), correspond to the source of the emotive energy of love inherent in understanding. There are two types of love: intellectual love (attraction that is aroused by the intellectual contemplation of an object worthy to love) and natural love (innate love that arouses naturally, spontaneously and without contemplation). These two love-types correspond to the simple carbohydrates and the complex carbohydrates. Intellectual love corresponds to complex carbohydrates. Natural love corresponds to simple carbohydrates.

Fats

Fats correspond to the source of the emotive energy of compassion inherent in understanding. In Kabbalah, compassion is referred to as "the [torso of the] body," which is either fat or slim. In Hebrew, the word for "fat" is cognate to the word for "oil." Interestingly, because of this, a "fat body" is usually an idiom implying a healthy, or "well oiled" body. Thus, caring for one's health is akin to having compassion for one's body. Still, it is important to note that too much concern for one's physical health, i.e., too much compassion for the body translates into too much fat! If an individual is not conscious of his or her real purpose in life, over-attention to the body may lead to an obsessive concern for health and result in the very opposite of good health!

Caring for one's health is akin to having compassion for one's bodySaturated fats are usually solid at room temperature while unsaturated fats are usually liquid. In Kabbalah, saturation relates to the presence of the faculty of knowledge within compassion. Such saturation translates in practice into a keen sense of knowing toward whom one should express compassion and how to express that compassion. The more saturated (meaning, the more knowledge is present in one's compassion), the more solidified one's feeling and implementation of compassion.

There is a Kabbalistic model that relates the four most basic atomic elements with the emotive faculties. Let us draw this model in its traditional format:

fear
carbon (C)

love
hydrogen (H)

compassion
oxygen (O)

¦

lowliness
nitrogen (N)

In Kabbalah, it is the faculty of knowledge (graphically situated just above and between love and fear) that is the source and which binds love and fear. Using this model we can also write the equivalent statement: knowledge is what binds hydrogen and carbon atoms.

Proteins

Proteins correspond to the source of the emotive energy of fear inherent in understanding. Somewhat surprisingly, psychologically and spiritually, fear is manifest in the psyche as might. The explanation for this is that a person's might represents the strength necessary to face his fears and to overcome the object or objects of fear. On the physical plane, in the body, might is manifest as muscular strength, which comes from proteins.

Proteins have regulatory functions. For example, the hormone insulin is a protein that regulates the level of sugar in the blood. In Kabbalah, we are taught that fear also has a regulatory function. Fear regulates love (just as with regard to too much compassion, too much love, or unregulated love, may have negative results). As noted, proteins are polymers of amino acids. In general, the spiritual psychological equivalents of acids derive from the emotive energy of fear/might in the human psyche.

Vitamins

Vitamins correspond to the source of the emotive energy of confidence inherent in understanding. Vitamins are organic molecules, in contrast to minerals, which are inorganic nutrients, as we shall explain. Minerals correspond to the source of the emotive energy of sincerity. In Kabbalah, confidence and sincerity are described as two sides of one coin.2 Indeed, like confidence and sincerity, their psychological counterparts, vitamins and minerals work together as two sides of one coin.

Let us redraw the two models we have been discussing in one composite chart:

Understanding (binah)
other nutrients

Wisdom (chochmah)
water

Might (gevurah)
proteins

Loving-kindness (chesed)
carbohdyrates

Beauty (tiferet)
fats

Acknowledgment (hod)
minerals

Victory (netzach)
vitamins

Vitamins and minerals work together as two sides of one coinIn this composite chart, we clearly see that vitamins (the sefirah of victory) are situated at the bottom end of the right axis, which begins with water. Following the normative order of the sefirot, vitamins (victory) follow fats (beauty). So vitamins relate to both water and to fats. This is the Kabbalistic source for why there are two types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble.

But, now let us see how the Kabbalistic analysis interprets these two types of vitamins. Psychologically, the fat-soluble vitamins represent confidence as it is based on the experience of compassion. In other words, one type of self-confidence is the product of my experience of G‑d as always near me because of His mercy towards me. In this respect, self-confidence is warranted as G‑d is always eager to give us the power to succeed in achieving our life goals.

In contrast, water-soluble vitamins represent total reliance and confidence in G‑d, our Father in Heaven (remember that water corresponds to wisdom, which is also known as the father principle). Water nurtures confidence, but not a feeling of self-confidence. Indeed, here too, the physical plane mirrors the spiritual/psychological plane, because excessive amounts of the fat-soluble vitamins, just like overt self-confidence, can be toxic.

Minerals

Minerals correspond to the source of the emotive energy of sincerity inherent in understanding. Sincerity implies simplicity, in our context alluding to simple, inorganic chemical elements necessary for our bodies to function properly. As mentioned above, confidence and sincerity function together as two partners. In Kabbalah, they are depicted as two legs, neither of which, when walking, can function without the other.

One of the most important examples of a mineral necessary for the body to function is iron, needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. The blood flow, which carries oxygen, the "breath of life," to all of the body's cells is symbolized in Kabbalah by physiological walking or traveling. It is controlled by the psychological power of sincerity.

Nutrition and a Balanced Diet

Let us now see how the basic rules for a healthy physical diet translate into guides for a healthy spiritual life. As we saw above, foods rich in complex carbohydrates represent intellectually inspired love (for both G‑d and mankind). Just as complex carbohydrates serve as the base of our physical diet, intellectually inspired love, derived from in-depth study of the Torah and meditative prayer form the basis of a healthy spiritual and religious life.

A healthy body requires a healthy soul—the two are interdependentOne should limit one's intake of fatty, sugary foods. Likewise, as explained above, too much unregulated love (sugary foods) or compassion (fats) for one's self may be negative for one's overall well-being. Of course, the energy released from the food that we eat will help us ascend in our service of G‑d and mature in character only if the food is kosher according to the laws of the Torah. Non-kosher food nurtures negative character traits, preventing us from serving our Creator with humility and joy.

A healthy body requires a healthy soul—the two are totally interdependent. In Hebrew, the initials of "body" (guf) and "soul" (neshamah) spell the word for "garden" (gan). A kosher, well balanced diet, together with proper, Divinely oriented consciousness, brings us back to the unadulterated state of the Garden of Eden, where G‑d placed us before the primordial sin of eating that which G‑d had forbidden. Just as mankind was exiled from the Edenic state because of choosing to eat unwisely, so our return to the Edenic state depends on our most basic drive: our need to eat.

Footnotes
2.

Confidence is the inner aspect of the sefirah of victory, while sincerity is the inner aspect of the sefirah of acknowledgment. These two sefirot are described in the Zohar as two halves of one body.

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh is founder and director of the Gal Einai Institute and has written more than forty books exploring topics like psychology, education, medicine, politics, mathematics and relationships, through the prism of Kabbalah and numerology.
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Davida Morristown October 12, 2015

Question As I am very attracted to Chassidus and nutrition, I love that this article combines both subjects. I love to learn as much information as I can about this subject matter, as well as info the Rambam says in regards to nutrition (other than his new diet book that recently came out). However, I am disappointed to not see any sources in your above article. Could you please tell me the sources of you work? Also, if you have any other sources about health/nutrition, be it Rambam, kabbalah, etc, could you please share those as well? Thank you and all the best! Reply

Cindy Greene North Carolina,U.S.A January 21, 2015

The Kabbalah of Nutrition I had been feeling that connection between the two for sometime now.I am happy to have read this article.It has been a great help to me. Reply

regina pruss detroit January 20, 2013

awesome wonderful article. helps to validate what i already felt about food and spirituality. Reply

Shelly Brooklyn-NY November 3, 2012

Incredible...Esoteric breakdown! on the purpose of our consumption of physical food for a spiritual purpose. This really put into perspective also the necessity of healthy eating. As our body is a temple, it is also important to clearly see that what we eat has a direct effect on our spiritual consciousness. I will now be mindful of what I consume daily, and do my best to align it with my higher purpose, and health goals... Reply

Lina Sivana Robert-cohen kissimmee, florida May 9, 2012

thank you I would like to know the exact spiritual explanation on diabetes, or a book where I can further research it, I understood that has something to do with fears (carbs) can you clarify please. Reply

zorayda montreal, canada October 11, 2010

thank you so much for this article i am from mexique ,i need more confidence to change my life.i have my faith back Reply

Ari Goldwaser Wyckoff, NJ/USA June 15, 2010

Thanks! I am a college student, currently taking organic chemistry. This article has aiding in my understanding of the spiritual functions of the different nutrients which are essential to life to no end. Not only has it helped me understand and appreciate the foods which I am eating; but, this article has helped me gain a better insight into what I am studying in my organic chemistry class. Thank you so much for writing this article, you don't know how much it has impacted me. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, CA April 21, 2010

Thank You I am a 7th grade Science teacher at a Yeshiva and we are currently studying nutrition. This is an excellent integration of science and Torah in a way that I hope my students will appreciate what they are learning. That nutrition, understanding science and of course Torah can happen together. Reply

batia k cottonwood, az via chabadaz.com June 26, 2008

amen what a wonderful commentary linking the kabbalah to a very basic part of the human experience.....what we choose to put in our mouths every day in order to further serve our human brothers and sisters as well as our creator! thank you! Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA June 25, 2008

L'Chaim! This should form the basis for any doctor's study of good health. Complete, yet worthy of endless commentary. Superficially, a child could learn to live by it. But, if all the meaning within it is grasped, the world is not only maintainable by it, but it is also fixable.

Belonging to you emotively as a friend:) Reply

Matilde Galvan Mexico, DF, Mexico June 23, 2008

Awesome After this, I can not sit at my table and eat another meal as before. Thank you for opening my eyes in such a beautiful manner. It was awesome. I am not a Jew (at least not to my knowledge), but I am always reading and learning of Jewish culture, religion and customs. I feel very fond of them. Thank you very very much, again. Blessings. Reply

nuchy Wilhelm london, uk June 22, 2008

this is very inspirational Thanks for a practical guide on how our physical eating is intertwined with our spiritual state. I would love to read more articles along similar lines.

Thank You Reply

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