More and more we are realizing that the nature of matter is ephemeral. Particles are waves in party costume, and waves are particles in a state of undress. The universe is replete with phenomena that provide a subtle interplay between reality and non-reality, tangibility and illusion. Human consciousness wends its way around a cosmic hall of smoky mirrors, bumping into the morality traps of right and wrong, good and evil.

The world that our eyes see and other senses perceive is an elaborate façade, behind which lie the spiritual strings that hold the world of matter and energy intact. Take food for example. What makes the plant grow? Water only facilitates the inbuilt biological processes. The earth only provides the medium for the nurture and foundation. Kabbalah teaches that the plants ultimately derive from a realm so high that even the human soul can only catch a distant glimpse. The source-world of plant life is known as Olam HaTohu (the "realm of chaotic form"). The source-world of the human soul is Olam HaTikkun (the "realm of repair"). Ironically the former is higher than the latter. This means that the spiritual source of the plant is inherently superior to that of the human soul.

Looking at the plant, notwithstanding its beauty and intricacy, it still does not seem to come close to the complexity and depth of the human. Yet the plant and animal sustain the human being. Without food we cannot survive. In spiritual terms this demonstrates the human soul's dependency on the spiritual endowment within food.

Chassidic teachings explain that the higher the spiritual force, the lower it descends. From the world of Tohu, the sparks of spiritual force descended much lower, so that the innate life-force is hidden in the coarse material world. That which is placed higher has the greater potential thrust to fall lower. Spiritually, plants and inanimate matter are ultimately located closer to the apex of creation. Hence their seemingly lowly position "down here".

So how is it that the human nevertheless appears more endowed, possessing greater consciousness and complexity? Deriving from the realm of Tikkun ("repair") the human has the capacity to refine the raw spiritual energy the plant, producing the food-stuffs that are eatable and digestible. Only then can the innate superior spiritual quality of the plant and animal boost the life force flowing through the human, satisfying the instinct to survive.

That is why a baby does not begin to recognize the parent and bond with the parent until it has eaten food. It needs the superior life force within the plant to boost the consciousness that flows through the mind, realizing the powers of recognition, discernment, and speech.

Respect and honor for food is a basic dictum in the Jewish spiritual tradition. Perhaps it is practiced more in the breach, but anyone familiar with the deeply insightful teachings of Chassidism and Kabbalah cannot but be moved by the complex labyrinth of mitzvot and berachot that allow a fuller consciousness of and honor for the spiritual nature of the food we eat.

MASTERY: When eating, become aware of the spiritual force that bonds the foodstuff to the highest of spiritual realms. Eat the food with the realization that it is truly a gift that allows the soul to invigorate by "borrowing" the plant and animal energy, so that we can function optimally as a co-creator of an unfinished creation.

MEDITATION: Imagine a spiritual waterfall whose source is located infinitely beyond the reach of the eye. Its waters rush down into a lower realm, the realm of here and now, providing it with the succor for its survival. Extend the vision to each spoonful of food you ingest, and sense the amazing capacity that food has to revive the spirit, mind, and nurture the body. Respect the food by enunciating an affirmation ("Berachah") before any act of eating.

Follow-up resources: What is Kabbalah? and Talking to G‑d (audio) available at Rabbi Wolf's Website (see link below).