In recent years it has become increasingly clear that eating mindfully has many health benefits. The Harvard Health Blog, for example, reported:

Paying more attention to what you eat, not less, could help keep you from overeating. Multitasking—like eating while watching television or working—and distracted or hurried eating can prompt you to eat more. Slowing down and savoring your food can help you control your intake.1

Jews have always understood the power of mindful eating.

Judaism teaches that eating is not only a necessity of survival, nor merely a pleasurable experience; it is also a spiritual exercise.

Much of the discussion in this week’s parshah is about eating the Temple offerings. Some were eaten by the priests, while others were eaten by the person who brought the offering. In either case, the eating of the offering was part of what achieved the offering’s spiritual effect.

The Talmud tells us:

Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elazar both said: while the Temple still stood, the altar atoned for man; now that the Temple no longer stands, a man’s table atones for him.”2

This teaching is extraordinary: how can it possibly be that when we sit down to eat a meal we are experiencing the same spiritual effect, the same atonement, as with the offerings that were brought upon the altar?

Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy teach that every creation has a soul, a spark of G‑dliness. This is true for each of the forms of life on earth: the inanimate, the plant, and the animal. Each possesses a soul that yearns for the opportunity to transcend and reconnect with its source.

All of creation can be elevated through the human being—the only creation made in the image of G‑d and the only creation to possess free choice.

When man consumes the inanimate, plant, or animal, one of two things can happen. If he eats for his own personal pleasure, he is lowered to their spiritual level, which, from the soul’s perspective, is a missed opportunity for both man and food. If, however, he eats the food with a spiritual purpose—so that he will be healthy and have energy to serve his Creator and achieve his mission on earth, then he elevates the spark of holiness within the food and allows it to be reunited with its Divine source.3

The daily offerings, which were brought in the Temple on behalf of all the Jewish people, comprised every category of creation: each animal was brought together with an offering of grain—representing the plant kingdom, and salt—representing the inanimate. The intense holiness of the Temple meant that not only were the offerings sanctified, but all animals, plants, and minerals in the rest of the world were sanctified too.4

Today, however, we don't enjoy the spiritual benefits of the Temple. As such, the responsibility of elevating the sparks within creation falls to each of us. “While the Temple still stood,” says the Talmud, “the altar atoned for man; now … man’s table atones for him”. Today, the atonement of the world and its spiritual elevation is in our hands and upon our tables.

So next time you eat, do so mindfully. Notice the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food.

But don’t stop there.

Dig deeper. Be mindful of the spark of holiness within the food. Recite the appropriate blessings, and consider how you will elevate the soul of the food by using its energy to fuel good deeds.