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Judaism and the Art of Eating

by Rabbi Yisrael Rice

  

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Before we can grasp the significance of Kosher, we need to understand the Jewish approach to eating and life itself. Put simply, we are here to transform the physical realm into a place that G-d can call home. Of course, a home must be consistent with the will and design concept of its inhabitant. So, in making the world G-d's home we are His interior designers. Every aspect of our life is an element in the Divine abode.

Now don't get discouraged. This is possible and you do it much more often than you may be aware. (You may be doing it this very moment.) The idea is that our general theme in life is to serve G-d. Staying healthy, supporting our families and relaxing are all important components to this service. They can all be seen within the context of transforming the world. Let's take eating for example. First, one aspect of serving G-d is being healthy and strong; and eating is part of this service. As Maimonides puts it "...keeping the body healthy is part of serving G-d."

Second, we are endowed with the ability to actually elevate the food by eating it with the proper intention. Let's take a look at an apple. A G-dly spark was invested in the apple. That spark was its 'soul' or vitality. The spark, however, was entrapped in the physical form of the apple. When one eats the apple within the life context of serving G-d, the spark is released from its physical trappings. It unites with the person's intention to serve G-d, and becomes a revealed part of G-dliness. When this spiritual energy in the food is realized it also adds to the eater's spiritual awareness.

So, eating is not just a matter of pleasing our palate. It isn't even a matter of keeping ourselves alive. It is a spiritual service that requires focus and direction.

A story is related about a half cup of water, the other half of which had been consumed by a human being. One half of the cup was jealous of the other, but which half of which? It depends on whether the person had the proper intentions when drinking it.

Every aspect of creation becomes incorporated into the level above it. Minerals and water sustain plants. Plants sustain animals. All three levels sustain man. Although man's soul ascends to heaven, his body returns to dust. If man does nothing with his existence, he brings all of creation back to dust, the lowest level. Conversely, man has the ability to elevate his sustenance to a level of Divinity.

Now that we understand what eating is about, we can understand why certain foods are forbidden.

BOUND AND UNBOUND

Jewish mysticism explains a reality called 'Klipah' or 'husk'. This husk conceals the G-dly spark that gives life to every creature. The husk renders the spark inaccessible. This is what we call evil. The inherent G-dliness is trapped in the vestments of the klipah and is unable to express itself and rise to a higher level.

The Hebrew word for forbidden is 'Asur' which literally means bound up. The energy or soul of food that is not kosher is bound to the husks and cannot be elevated. Since the point of eating is to elevate the food, and non-kosher food cannot be elevated, it is forbidden to eat it.

Certainly, non-kosher foods have a G-dly spark in them as well. Indeed, their energy is metabolized. However, since the G-dly spark is bound up with the husk, it cannot be elevated through ingestion. This spark remains trapped in the physical without the possibility of ascent. (There are other ways to elevate a non-kosher animal, such as riding on it. In the latter case, the undesirable energy does not enter the body.)

In contrast, 'Mutar', the Hebrew word for permissible, literally means unbound. The energy of permissible foods is not bound to the klipah and thus can be elevated through having the proper intentions and using the energy for a G-dly purpose.

Eating non-kosher food results in another problem. The unprocessed spark in the non-kosher food acts like any foreign element in the body. Energy was meant to be metabolized, and this applies to spiritual energy as well. Since the spark cannot be processed by elevation, it causes a spiritual blockage that retards our ability to relate to holiness.

Certainly, one can become accustomed to a low level of sensitivity. But, for example, if we eat only healthy food, we will feel the effect of a small measure of unhealthy food. This reaction does not mean that we are unhealthy, but on the contrary, that we have a heightened sensitivity. Similarly, through eating non-kosher food, we build a level of tolerance to it. But if we alter our diet to kosher food, the sensitivity slowly returns.


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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Kashrut
Laws of Kosher (Jewish dietary laws).
Hashem
"The Name." Out of respect, we do not explicitly mention G-d's name, unless in the course of prayer. Instead, "Hashem" is substituted.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Family Purity
Laws relating to intimacy between husband and wife. The primary point of Family Purity is the woman's purifying immersion in a ritual bath which allows the couple to resume intimate relations after the woman's menstrual period.