Food and drink are so central in our lives that we hardly give it a second thought. What matters, we tell ourselves, is “doing good”, “being kind”, “tikkun olam” etc etc. And food? It’s just a tool; something we do to sustain ourselves, so we can do all these other great things…
Leafing back to Genesis, we might notice the first time the root צ.ו.ה – letzavot –to command – appears in the Torah is right near eating:
וַיְצַו֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat (Genesis 2:16).
There is much to learn from the act of eating about our relationship with G-d. If there is anything to remind us of our limitations, of how we can be just like animals, of how we are not immortal – it’s our need to eat (procreation and sexual desires are there too, and if you’d like to dig through a Hebrew dictionary you’d be amazed at the closeness of the words used for both).
The midrash tells us about Abraham and Sarah who “made souls” (Genesis 12:5), teaching people about the One G-d by having them over for a meal and then, inviting them to thank whoever gave them that food, slowly realizing where it’s all coming from.
In many cultures, fasting seems what’s more “godly”, more “angelic”, being able to manage without food, sort of like G-d! but our tradition tells us that it’s just as much a mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur as it is to fast on Yom Kippur itself! which in a sense means – to celebrate our being fully human, and not our being angels for a day, is our highest form of being.
Interestingly, we are not the only ones who eat, and I find this idea fascinating: When the sacrifices are accepted, it is described as the mizbe’ach (altar) who eats them; and the Land of Israel is described as “eating its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32). Though often viewed negatively, what this tells us is that the Land is an active, living organism, which has the ability to consume and by doing so, change those who live on it, as we become an integral part of her!
Eating can also be dangerous. In the same paragraph of “And you shall eat, and be satisfied and bless”, it says “ be careful lest you forget your G-d…. lest you eat and be satisfied”… Aren’t we supposed to eat and be satisfied?? It’s the word “bless” that is missing here. When the eating gets disconnected from its source, it becomes a source of pain, agony, distance from Hashem and the Land…
It is not easy to read the Book of Deuteronomy during these days, Corona Day 150’ish or so. Thinking of reward and punishment during the days after Tish’a Be’av and wondering, where are we on history’s timeline? What can we, should we, do now that later we’ll moan for missing?? Just this week, Naftali Bennet stood in the Knesset and in a moving speech, cried out for the government to do something to assure people’s “bread” and livelihood through what seems to be a “2nd – harsher – wave” and into the winter. How indeed, do we turn these words into action?
In this same Torah portion we read:
כִּ֣י הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה בָא־שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ לֹ֣א כְאֶ֤רֶץ מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ הִ֔וא אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְצָאתֶ֖ם מִשָּׁ֑ם אֲשֶׁ֤ר תִּזְרַע֙ אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֔ וְהִשְׁקִ֥יתָ בְרַגְלְךָ֖ כְּגַ֥ן הַיָּרָֽק׃
For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like a vegetable garden;
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתֶּ֜ם עֹבְרִ֥ים שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ אֶ֥רֶץ הָרִ֖ים וּבְקָעֹ֑ת לִמְטַ֥ר הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם תִּשְׁתֶּה־מָּֽיִם׃
but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven.
אֶ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ דֹּרֵ֣שׁ אֹתָ֑הּ תָּמִ֗יד עֵינֵ֨י יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ בָּ֔הּ מֵֽרֵשִׁית֙ הַשָּׁנָ֔ה וְעַ֖ד אַחֲרִ֥ית שָׁנָֽה׃
It is a land which the LORD your God looks after, on which the LORD your God always keeps His eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end.
Every little act impacts and reflects back to our relationships – with ourselves, with each other and with Hashem, from a piece of bread to rain on earth. May we learn to lead those well.