The Spirituality of Food

We may need to work on our spiritual health in order to ensure our physical health.

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The impulse that we have to nourish ourselves through food is a good one, reflecting God's desire that we feel cherished. (Thanks to Joyce Krensky for this insight.) Thus we see food equals love not because we are sick but because it reflects a measure of truth. There is an emotional quality to eating. Food gives pleasure. (By the same token, hunger is also a gift from God, for it promotes self-preservation and impels us to action.)

Eating All That Is Excellent

"In the world-to-come, a person will be asked to give an account for that which, being excellent to eat, she gazed at and did not eat" (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin, end).

"[You should realize that] God created the good that is before you, and God gives it its existence and puts within it its taste and nourishing qualities. And God gives to a person the desire to eat and also his sense of taste, whereby the food tastes good." (Menorat Zahav [by Rabbi Zusya of Hanipoli, a leader of 18th century Hasidism])

Food, however, cannot replace love. There may be an uncontrolled desire to attain through food that which it can not ultimately provide. Clearly, then, a healthy approach to eating is rooted in a healthy body and a healthy psyche. Thus eating can be transformed into a spiritual exercise.

A healthy/spiritual approach to food is rooted in three areas of traditional teachings: berakhot, "blessings"; kashrut, "dietary laws"; and seudah, "food as celebration and pleasure." Taken together, they make the everyday act of eating an essential part of a spiritual path.

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.