Whoever said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch clearly wasn’t planning on attracting a crowd. We learned long ago that any synagogue function where food consumption is part of the featured entertainment would have a turnout approximately double that of a non-dining experience. Want proof? Advertise a “lunch ’n’ learn” and fail to deliver one of the two; I guarantee that your crowd would be more ready to forgive the latter than the former.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify our national preoccupation; after all, can you name a festival or religious observance that isn’t centered around the consumption (or avoidance) of food? Not to say we are a nation of gluttons, but we prefer our spirituality served with food on the side. I personally know many people who were first attracted to synagogue because of the post-prayer kiddush food spread.

Eating can, and should, be a spiritual experienceIn fact, eating can, and should, be a spiritual experience. Unlike other religions, which view life as an all-or-nothing battle between body and soul, and say that the more spiritual the person the less involvement he or she has with the world, we have never had a culture of celibacy, nor do we preach self-denial. We cherish the body, we promote marriage and procreation, and we view every moment of our life as a gift from G‑d to be utilized in His service. Eating gives us the strength and nourishment to support body and soul in fulfilling their mutual responsibilities.

The Jews in the desert were provided with spiritual food, manna from heaven. For forty years, every morning was spent foraging for this special foodstuff. Now, if G‑d wanted to miraculously ensure His nation’s survival in a desert, He needn’t have invented manna and have it miraculously appear daily. He could have played around with nature in another way, by reducing our dependency on food. No appetite, no hunger, no problem.

The miracle of manna illustrated that eating, too, can be a spiritual act. After all, the bread I eat today, grown and produced “naturally,” is, in reality, no less miraculous than the bread that fell from heaven, and should be greeted and treated with the same sense of wonder and gratitude.

True, I have to go to work in the morning in my daily effort to find sufficient food for the day. But I know that the ultimate source of blessing is G‑d, and that He can be trusted to provide me with my daily needs.

When a Jew eats with the proper sense of reverence and appreciation to G‑d—not as a carnivore enslaved to his base desires, but as a mentch, grateful for the opportunity to live, and eager to bring life and love to every action—then eating, too, becomes an act of holiness every bit as necessary and acceptable to G‑d as prayer.