Thoughts For Food and Food For Thought: Kedushas Ha’achilah

Kashrus Kurrents, Fall 2022

During the Yamim Noraim season, it is important to focus on our potential, who we are now and who we want to be going forward. In that light, I would like to touch on one aspect of the topic of קדש עצמך במותר לך – sanctifying yourself through that which is permitted to you.[1]  I would like to skim the surface of the topic of kedushas ha’achilah – eating in a holy, noble manner.

My intent is to offer a few thoughts to help us eat a little differently in this New Year of 5783. The Yamim Nora’im are an auspicious time to start doing so, as it is the zman when we tend to be in a more reflective frame of mind and become more receptive to lofty and nuanced ideas, especially in areas of personal and spiritual growth.

Aizeh Hu Ashir: Who is Wealthy?

The Chofetz Chaim offers a hashkafic insight related to the metzora. The Mishna says, “A wealthy person who brings a poor man’s sacrifice has not fulfilled his obligation.” [2] He teaches that wealth refers not only to a person with material riches but to anyone who is spiritually rich.[3] In addition, the principle applies not only to sacrifices but to any mitzvah.  

Ultimately, one who is spiritually wealthy cannot go about his fulfillment of mitzvos like any other Jew. His mitzvos must be fulfilled with increased diligence and meticulousness. If he makes brachos the same way a less learned Jew does so, then he has not met Hashem’s expectation of him. If he doesn’t daven with more reverence and focus, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah of tefilla as Hashem knows he could. Due to his spiritual gifts, the bar is set higher for him than for others. 

Thus, using the Chofetz Chaim’s definition of wealth, it is worth considering that we – who are blessed with great Torah knowledge, beautiful middos, and lofty goals in our service of Hashem – should think of ourselves as wealthy! With these spiritual riches at our disposal, I suggest that in this season of teshuva, we put some of our energies towards adjusting our perspectives of the way we approach food and drink.

While there is a treasure trove of sources to tap into, I will share a few ideas from Chazal, along with an inspiring story, that can provide hisorerus for even small changes during this special season. With syata d’Shamaya, any small changes we make will be catalysts for exponential aliyah.

Dedicating Times for Eating

About a month after leaving Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel depleted their supply of food, causing them to turn to Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon with complaints. When Moshe appealed to Hashem to provide the nation with sustenance, He responded that He would nourish them from the heavens. Moshe davened further that Hashem should provide that sustenance in a manner that would reveal to the Bnei Yisroel that He not only physically took them out of Egypt, but also removed them from the Egyptian way of life. What way of life was that?

The Egyptians ate at all hours. The Gemara quotes Rav Acha bar Yaakov as saying, “Originally, [in Egypt], the Jewish people were similar to chickens who peck at garbage all day, until Moshe came and instituted a time for their meals.”[4] Moshe’s tefilla was that Hashem would teach the Bnei Yisrael a more elevated way to eat – by setting aside specific times to eat, during what we call mealtimes.[5]

Eating to Live

Our tradition also teaches that the Torah gives us guidance regarding how much we should eat each day.

In the desert, Hashem declared that each person would receive an omer of the mohn daily. Each morning, individuals would go out to collect the mohn without measuring. Some underestimated an omer, while others overestimated. Regardless, upon returning home and measuring, they discovered that, miraculously, the amount they had collected was exactly one omer. Chazal teach, “From here we learn: Someone who eats this amount is healthy and blessed. One who eats more is gluttonous. One who eats less, his intestines will be faulty.”[6]

The lesson for us: Each day there is a set amount of eating that is healthful and brings bracha.

Removing Temptation

What can we do to help us limit the frequency and amount of food we consume daily?

The following suggestion is a tool that we ought to apply in many aspects of our lives, but will prove especially powerful in our quest to begin eating in a holier manner: to limit our exposure to – and thus being tempted by – food  (e.g., in grocery stores, advertisements, buffets – even peeking into our refrigerators and pantries more than is necessary) The Chovos Halevavos understands this is pshat in the words of the possuk that we read twice a day in Kri’as Shema: ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם – do not turn after your heart’s desires and what your eyes see.[7] He understands the possuk as encouraging us to rein in our sense of sight by doing our best to avoid looking at things that distract us from what is truly beneficial: אלא השתמש בחוש הראייה שלך לראיית יצירות הבורא יתברך, כדי שתתבונן בהם ותבחין ותבין מהם את יכולת הבורא, את חכמתו ואת טובו. – use your sense of sight to focus on Hashem’s creations: to contemplate and ascertain Hashem’s capabilities, His wisdom, and His goodness.[8]

Looking Ahead to 5783

Like Avi in our story below, we, too, can start making small adjustments to when we eat, how much we eat, and which foods we see. We might even lose some weight in the process. More importantly, with proper focus, we could also add more kedusha to our lives. By making small but significant changes in our eating habits, we can daven that Hashem will propel us to aliyah after aliyah in shnas 5783 and beyond.

Starting Small Can Create Big Change: A Story

Here’s a story I heard from Rabbi Avrum Mordechai Malach that took place a few years ago in Eretz Yisroel. It’s about someone I don’t know but whom nonetheless I consider as one of my heroes. I will call him Avi.

The story begins on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, which is essentially a legal holiday for most people in Eretz Yisroel. Kiruv workers use that opportunity to schedule special learning programs for Jews of all backgrounds. Rabbi Chaim Zaid, a Sephardic kiruv rabbi, gave an introductory shiur tailored to a diverse audience that included an assortment of kippot – knitted, colored, black – along with several bare heads. Some of the kippot looked like they had been taken out of a drawer for the special occasion.

He began by reviewing the laws of Netilas Yadayim. He followed by discussing eating b’kedushah, with holiness, explaining that a Jew is supposed to approach eating and drinking in a refined manner: a Jew sits down, makes a bracha before and after eating, and cuts his food into bite-sized pieces. Eating in a refined manner, he assured his audience, is propitious for Divine help in being granted a good living.

When he finished speaking, Avi, a man with a tiny kippah, who had worked in a bakery for years and was now unemployed, approached Rabbi Zaid and exclaimed, I am accepting always to eat in a refined manner.”

Though Rabbi Zaid thought to himself, first keep Shabbos, wear tefillin, and eat kosher, he nevertheless encouraged Avi much success with his commitment.

The following Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Rabbi Zaid spoke at the same venue. Afterwards, a very pious looking Jew approached and said, “Shalom aleichem, Mori v’Rebbe (my teacher, my rebbe). Do you remember me? I was the non-religious Jew who told you he was only going to eat in refined manner.”

Now, Rabbi Zaid remembered the man.

“Do you want to hear my story?” Avi asked.

“Absolutely!” was the reply.

“Last year, I took very seriously what the Rav said about eating with kedusha. The Rav mentioned that a Jew eats and cuts his food with a knife into smaller pieces, and then eats. I said to myself, granted I am not Orthodox, but I am not an animal. I can still eat like a refined person. I accepted upon myself to only eat after cutting my food into small pieces, and made my whole family do the same.

“After a while we started making brachos on our food. We didn’t wear kippot, but we learned when to make a Shehakol, Mezonot and Ha’eitz.”

“One day, I went with my kids to a park. They ran around and played for a while and had a good time. After a while they became hungry but I had nothing to feed them. Then, we saw a delivery truck for one of the big bakeries in Israel. My kids said, ‘Aba, there is a bakery truck. Maybe you can buy us something?’

“I said, ‘They only sell wholesale.’

 “They responded, ‘We are so hungry. Please ask anyway.’

“I went to the driver and asked if I could buy something for my children. He confirmed that they don’t sell retail. But then he said, ‘You asked so nicely …’ He opened the back of the truck and there were these fresh chocolate Danishes, oozing with chocolate. I bought a few and we sat down to enjoy.

“As the kids were about to eat, I said, ‘One minute, remember, we eat civilized. Let me get a knife and eat like Jews.’

 “‘Of course,’ the kids said.

“As I was cutting, I noticed, mixed in with the chocolate were these small green spots. Since I had worked in a bakery, I knew you can have some sugar or chocolate that is not mixed well, but this was different. The color was strange. I pulled off a small piece and sniffed it carefully. It smelled like engine oil!

“All the Danishes I’d purchased were the same. It was clear, whether by accident or by intention, a worker had put add engine oil to the mix. I ran to the driver and shouted to stop him from pulling away, yelling, ‘Everyone is in danger!’

“He thought I was crazy. I told him I had worked in a bakery a long time. ‘I know! This is poison!’”

“He checked the rest of the Danishes. They were all adulterated. He called the boss. The boss halted all of the trucks in the fleet.”

As he recounted his story, Avi reflected on what had happened. “If I hadn’t cut them up, because of all of the chocolate and sugar, we wouldn’t have noticed until it was too late.”

Due to a seemingly small commitment regarding kedushas ha’achila, Avi and his family changed their lives forever. (The icing on the cake: the boss offered Avi to be his general manager. The segula for eating b’kedushah was realized!)

This story illustrates what can happen when we are careful with something seemingly small – we allow special Divine influences to affect our lives and usher in significant growth.

[1] Yevamos 20a (see Rambam Vayikra 19:2)

[2] Negai’im 14:12

[3] Parshas Metzora 14:21

[4] Yoma 75b

[5] Seforno, Shemos (16:6)

[6] Eruvin 83b

[7] Bamidbar 15:39

[8] Chovos Halevavos, Shaar Haprishus, Perek 5