- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On April 13, 2018
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.
“The first bite is the banquet.”
Such is the wisdom of Michael Pollan. Jewish tradition offers it another way in this week’s Torah portion, Shemini:
These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, for distinguishing between the impure and pure, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten. (Leviticus 11:46-41)
These two ideas may seem far apart but they don’t have to be.
The creation of the world inhabited by humans, and all the above mentioned living things gets to the core idea of eating. Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die. (Gen. 2:16-17) God offered this as the very first command to a human being. I have wondered whether the knowledge of good and bad initially had to do with the knowledge of food, that which might be good for you and that which might be bad for you. By eating of that fruit, perhaps they came to know their power over food, but also the power food has over human beings.
By the time we arrive to Leviticus, the focus has shifted to the performance of ritual, of doing what is right and performing sacrifices that draw human beings into relationship with the Divine. The section that precedes the laws regarding what can and cannot be consumed concerns itself with detailed instruction and strict reminders of holy behavior, centered in the Mishkan, the sacred sanctuary.
The commentary asks why place these prohibitions concerning what can and cannot be eaten here. One possible explanation by Maimonides is that the universe does not exist for [humanity’s] sake, but that each being exists for its own sake. As Jonathan Saks notes: Some species must be protected, given their freedom, granted their integrity, left unsubjected to human devices and desires. (Covenant and Conversation Lev. Pg. 161)
Human beings can’t control everything, sometimes even ourselves. The act of attention to what we can or cannot eat exercises the muscle in our mind of mindful intention. Just as we pray to pay attention to what emerges out of our mouths–Adonai, guard my tongue from speaking evil, my lips from offering deceit–so, too, should we pay attention to the food that enters into our mouths.
These laws offered by Leviticus are Judaism’s way of teaching us about what is sacred in the act of eating. If everything could be consumed, might we cease from noticing? Instead of just consuming, our awareness is heightened to truly taste what is before us. That first bite is a vast array of what we might learn to value and to savor.
If we can learn to control what and how we eat, imagine the possibilities of what else we might also learn to control of our behaviors as we make our way in the world.
Tonight we welcome the Consul General of Israel to New England, Yehuda Ya’akov. As he finishes his tenure in this area and returns to Israel, it is our chance to thank him for his service to the Jewish people. Services begin at 6:00 p.m. Live stream HERE.
The building is filled as we celebrate Shabbat, with Tot Rock for families with children 5 years old and younger at 5:00 p.m., and with the Riverway Project’s Soul Food Friday for adults in their 20s and 30s.
Torah study starts at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Connect with me HERE with your thoughts and reflections.