Food and Spirituality in Judaism, or - Feel Free to be Amazed!
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Food and Spirituality in Judaism, or - Feel Free to be Amazed!
Food that is eaten daily can be taken for granted. One of the ways Judaism helps us to keep our sense of appreciation alive is by instituting blessings to be said before and after eating.
Wonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious man’s attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to his spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things.
To the prophets, wonder is a form of thinking. It is not the beginning of knowledge but an act that goes beyond knowledge; it does not come to an end when knowledge is acquired; it is an attitude that never ceases.
As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder. In radical amazement, the Biblical man faces “the great things and unsearchable, the wondrous things without number” (Job 5:9). He encounters them in space and in time, in nature and in history; not only in the uncommon but also in the common…
We are trained in maintaining our sense of wonder by uttering a prayer before the enjoyment of food. Each time we are about to drink a glass of water, we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of creation…
Wishing to eat bread or fruit, to enjoy a pleasant fragrance or a cup of wine; on tasting fruit in season for the first time; on seeing a rainbow, or the ocean; on noticing trees when they blossom; on meeting a Sage in Torah or in secular learning; on hearing good or bad tidings - we are taught to invoke His great name and our awareness of Him. Even on performing a physiological function, we say "Blessed be You...who heals all flesh and does wonders...
(“God in Search of Man” by Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1955)
According to this, blessings aren't said in order to please God, but rather in order to invite the Divine to be a part of our daily experience. This is relevant especially when for many the image that tends to come to mind when thinking of God is of a distant, long-bearded wizard sitting up in the sky, expecting us to obey his strange orders, giving out rewards and punishing our failures. On the contrary, one of the ways of viewing God in Jewish tradition is expressed by the name "Hamakom," which means "The Place." In other words, God is viewed as the constant facilitator of our being, the "place" in which life unfolds. In this sense, blessings are considered to be a way of awakening our consciousness to a life that is full of purpose, sensation and wonder.
"…This is one of the goals of the Jewish way of living: to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things."
(Abraham Joshua Heschel)
In the days prior to Rosh Hashanah, throughout the Hebrew month of Elul, traditional Jews add Psalm 27 to their daily prayers. Here’s a contemporary translation by Norman Fischer from his book Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms
You are my light and my help
Whom should I fear?
You are the fortress of my life
Whom should I dread?
When the narrow ones gather...
[Pour a nearly full glass of red wine again and add just a few drops of white. Drink all.]
We now come to our final cup; the drops of white in the red remind us of the first cup of this seder and of the cyclical nature of the seasons. This final section represents what is invisible to the eye. Instead of eating fruit, we may enjoy sweet smells like cinnamon and rosemary. Beyond the cycle of eating is...
There is no more fundamentally human act than breaking bread together. On Shabbat we use two, complete loaves of rich, braided bread to symbolize abundance and blessing.
When setting the table, set two loaves of challah on plate, cover with a cloth, and place either a shaker of salt or container of honey nearby.
Remove the challah cover.
Touch the challah or touch someone who is touching the...
For Ashkenazi Jews, the primary symbolic food of Rosh Ha-Shanah is apples dipped in honey, a way of wishing for a sweet new year. Before eating apples and honey, say the following blessings:
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam borei pri ha-eitz.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who creates fruit of the tree.
Yehi ratzon lifanecha, Adonai Eloheinu,...
As the sun sets on Friday afternoon, we take some time out to feel gratitude and joy. Shabbat is about rest and rejuvenation, as well as appreciating all of the gifts—both sacred and mundane—that we enjoy each day. Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes. Use this service to bring some joy, beauty, and peace into your weekend.
Right before we begin Shabbat dinner, two uncut loaves of challah are uncovered. As they are raised, the following blessing is recited. After the blessing, the challahs are cut or torn into pieces which are distributed to everyone present. Some people lightly salt their piece of Challah before eating it,
comparing it to a divine offering from temple times.
Baruch ata Adonai,...
We raise a glass and pronounce a toast to the Shabbat day, declaring it to be a celebration in remembrance of God’s resting from the work of Creation and our Exodus from Egypt.
Kiddush is made up of three parts — an opening paragraph drawn from the Book of Genesis, which recalls God’s resting on the seventh day, a blessing over the wine ( borei pri ha-gafen ), and a blessing for the Shabbat day (...
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Expanding on the second question, Jewish tradition holds every living thing (and even inanimate objects) as containing a certain amount of wonder, as if there is a secret hiding inside of everything, yearning to be recognized, revealed and even protected. In our tradition, trees are to be respected. Just as there are human rights and animal rights, there are tree rights. For instance, you can't just wantonly chop down a...
Why did our Sages call it Rosh HaShana for the Tree (and not Trees)? This question was not asked in the Talmud, but in one of the earliest Kabbalistic writings, the Zohar. By the way, an interesting fact is that most of the questions, asked by Sages in the Zohar, were answered not by others but by the "asker." The inner Torah teaches that everything we need to know is already inside ourselves. Every time the question is...