The foundational teaching within the Jewish tradition is the Torah’s injunction to “eat, be satisfied, and bless YHVH, your God for the good of earth.”
It should first be noted how these words honor the very act of eating. In other words, eating is not simply a mundane act of selfishness, an evil necessity, or something we have to do to maintain our bodies; it is holy.
The Talmudic sages taught that the dinner table is like the altar in the Temple, and the meal we eat like the offering that brought us close to God.
Jay Michaelson, in God in Your Body, explains: “The Hebrew word for such offerings, korbanot, comes from the same root as l’karev, to be brought close. Rather than “sacrifices,” a better translation might be “joiners” or even “unifiers.”
“Eating is simple,” he continues, but eating in a manner that fulfills the commandment to be satisfied and bless “takes a certain amount of subtraction,” or cutting down the noise of an impossible, rushed life.
To eat in this manner requires mindfulness, and the Jewish injunction to meditate while eating endorses this. For example, the Darchei Tzedek’s statement that “The main service of God is through eating. Moreover the tzaddikim (righteous ones) meditate as they eat, in love and fear of God, as with prayer.1”
The Talmud encourages us to cultivate a moment of sincerity as we consume our food:
The miracle of food that God provides is as spectacular as the splitting of the Red Sea2.
“The natural desires of the Body are gifts from God,” explains Michaelson. He quotes the Hasidic master Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol, who said:
The will of the Creator, blessed be He then, is to “enliven every thing” for I am doing His will by eating….
It is God who has brought you to this hunger and thirst. For the hunger is from God3.
Finally, medieval Jewish sage Bahya ibn Pakuda, from his masterpiece, The Duties of the Heart, writes:
Whoever contemplates the natural processes of the body—how when food enters it, it is distributed to every part of the body—will see such signs of wisdom that he will be inspired to thank the Creator and praise Him, as David said,
All of my bones shall say: “God, who is like You!” (Psalms 35:10)
He will see how food passes into the stomach through a straight tube, called the esophagus, without any bend or twist; how afterwards, the stomach digests the food more thoroughly than chewing had; how then the food is carried into the liver through thin connecting veins that act as a strainer, preventing anything course from passing through to the liver; how the liver converts the food it receives into blood, which is distributes all over the body through tubes that look like water pipes and were formed specifically for this purpose….Meditate, my brother, on the Creator’s wisdom in structuring your body.
1. Darchei Tzedik p. 18 Translated by Yitzhak Buxbaum in Jewish Spiritual Practices, p. 226. Pesachim 118a
2. Quoted in Mazkeret Shem HaGedolim (M. H. Kleinman, ed.), p. 79 Translated by Buxbaum in Jewish Spiritual Practices, p 231.
3. Rabbi Bahya ibn Pakuda, The Duties of the Heart, Gate of Discernment, chapter 5, translated into Hebrew by R. Yehuda ibn Tibbon in Haberman, ed., p. 196
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