As the echoes of Purim reverberate through
existence, its message and energy speaks to each of us. Here
is a strange Purim thought that struck me this year --
How much time transpires between the moment that
you put a piece of food in your mouth and when it turns into
mush as it begins to make its way down your gullet entering
the digestive process?
I estimate around five to ten seconds.
How much time and energy do we spend to satisfy
these five fleeting seconds – the brief moments it takes until
all types of food are equalized in our throats? How many trillions
of dollars are spent on the food industry to gratify these short
These were some of the thoughts running through
my mind as I was sitting in a posh kosher restaurant in Midtown
Manhattan. I know that it sounds quite masochistic of me to
be thinking this way while swallowing down a juicy steak, following
some mouth melting sushi. But hey, that’s how I was wired –
or programmed. Not that I suffer from any major guilt; that
doesn’t happen to be my problem. It’s just that I am always
trying to overanalyze the simplest experiences.
The same thoughts came back to me during the Purim
festive meal, as I was sipping some nice wine and enjoying a
piece of good veal.
Judaism makes such a fuss about food that you
have to wonder if that is not the cause that so many Jews today
find their tradition to be spiritually irrelevant and morally
bankrupt. Hamantashen and kreplach on Purim. Latkes on Chanukah.
Cheese blintzes on Shavuot. Honey and apples on Rosh Hashana.
Even Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year – is about food:
It’s a fast day – we are fixated on not eating food. And on
the day before Yom Kippur we are told to eat twice as much!
Then there is of course Passover, with its unique menu, and
each family preparing their own special recipes.
It seems that for every holiday there is another
What’s this Jewish obsession with food and gastronomy?
What is so spiritual about a sumptuous meal? What is significant
and eternal about cuisine, and at that, food that lasts a mere
five seconds before it enters our systems?!
Purim specifically is defined by its special meal
– Seudat Purim. The Megillah specifically designates that this
holiday be celebrated with a mishta, a festive party.
We send friends gifts of food, mishloach manot. And
of course, we say l’chaim, on tangible wine or vodka.
Indeed, the Levush explains that Chanukah is the celebration
of the soul. Purim is the celebration of the body. Thus Chanukah
is commemorated with kindling lights – light representing spirit,
celebrating the spiritual victory of the Jews over the Greeks
who wanted to obliterate their souls, not their bodies. Purim
on the other hand celebrates the victory over Haman who wanted
to kill them physically. Hence, we celebrate with feeding our
Here’s a beautiful analogy from the Baal Shem
Tov that explains this thing with food and drink.
A king was preparing his child to inherit his
throne. In order for his son to be a sensitive leader, the king
determined to send him away from home. While the child was living
in his palace, the king realized, he would remain isolated and
protected by his comfortable surroundings. The son was spoiled
by all the wealth and all the attendants that catered to his
every need. The comfortable palace stunted his growth and would
not allow him to show and demonstrate what he was really made
of. To be groomed as a great leader, the king knew that he has
to send his son away from the palace, no matter how painful
it is, to live among the common folk, the subjects. This would
allow him to earn his way to be a compassionate and fitting
The sad day comes. As the king bids farewell to
his weeping son, the king promises him that he will stay in
touch with him, and even in the most difficult times the son
will be able to access his father, the king.
And so it happens. The son is sent off to a distant
land in the kingdom where no one recognizes him. He must learn
to make his way and earn his right on his own, with no one shielding
him. As time passes, the son slowly forgets his past and the
purpose of his journey.
But the wise king anticipated what would happen.
He understood that with time, his son would forget his roots,
as he assimilates into the ways of the foreign land that he
now inhabits. In order to counter this amnesia, the king sends
his son a letter several times a year reminding him that “I
am you father the king. You were sent to this distant land in
order to prepare you for your destiny, to be a great leader
of this nation. Never forget it.”
When the son receives the letter, he is ecstatic
and wants to celebrate. He remembers the beauty of the palace
and his home. He recalls the purpose of his mission to this
He has a great desire to celebrate and announce
to all his neighbors the true reason for his coming to live
in this town. But he soon thinks better of it. He realizes that
the townspeople will not understand or appreciate where he is
coming from and that he is being groomed to be their leader.
They would not believe him, thinking him insane. They might
even be resentful.
But his desire to celebrate is strong. He thinks
of an idea. After he receives the letter, he makes an announcement
in town, offering everyone in town a free meal and drinks. Of
course, all the townspeople are delighted. They accept the offer
and celebrate for their free dinner and cocktails. Meanwhile,
while they are distracted and celebrating their free meal, the
king’s son celebrates with them for the letter he received from
G-d is the king and each of us is the king’s child.
Our natural environment before coming to Earth is the heavenly
palace, a spiritual environment where our souls are completely
comfortable. But in order for us to establish and demonstrate
our true abilities, G-d sends us away from our comfort zone
into a foreign, material world. A world that can be harsh and
And we forget. As we grow accustomed to our material
existence, we forget our point of departure and our destination
– the purpose of our journey to Earth.
But G-d sends us a ‘letter’ several times a year
– He gives us the holidays, reminders that we come from a greater
place, and we are here to transform the material world into
a Divine abode, a home for our souls. When we receive these
letters, we naturally want to celebrate.
However, there is a small problemo. Our physical
bodies and the material world around us are not exactly prepared
to celebrate with us; they do not understand or appreciate the
spiritual message we have received. They are so consumed with
the selfish world of matter, that they will not allow us to
freely celebrate our spiritual awareness.
So G-d tells us: “Feed your body with good food
and drink on the holiday. Provide it with free meals and cocktails.
Allow your body to celebrate on its terms, while you celebrate
the ‘letter’ that you have received from Me on this grand holiday.”
That’s the secret of food. The body of food is
the nourishment and gratification it gives your body. The soul
of food is the Divine message which each holiday offers us.
You can eat and you can eat. You can indulge in
your meals and drinks, which last as long as the taste is in
your mouth and the food in your stomach, until your… next meal.
Or you can bless and sanctify the food, eat it on your table
which you transform in to a sacred altar, and then eternalize
the power of the spiritual message into a timeless experience.
Five seconds can go either way: Down your throat
into your belly. Or up into eternity. It’s up to you.
Below is a correspondence between Rabbi Jacobson
and a reader in response to the The Power of Five Seconds:
Please read the truth about that "lovely piece of veal"
you so much enjoyed at www.britishmeat.com/veal.html G-d
never intended us to treat our fellow creatures in such a hideous
way, as we find on today's factory farms. Kosher doesn't
make it any less pardonable. If it wasn't for the plain
stupidity and/or arrogance of Noah, we would still be eating
the healthy foods that G-d created for us.
Every creature is born with intelligence and instinct.
Just because we can't seem to understand each of our fellow
creatures, doesn't mean that lobsters feel no pain while dropped,
alive, into a pot of boiling water. Though I am aware that
shell fish are "unclean," and not to be consumed,
it doesn't make the many other cruelties less onerous.
So, the next time you're eating in some "posh" Manhattan
kosher eatery, maybe you'll give your tastebuds
something less cruelly produced.
I appreciate your kind advice and your enlightening me on the
cruel methods used to produce veal. After reading the article
Veal: A Cruel
Meal I will attempt never to eat veal again. I guess my
eating veal and writing about it can now be transformed into
bringing awareness to this issue.
I do however want to share with you what a great Rebbe said
about a vegetarian who was questioning the consumption of meat
at a Shabbat meal: "And do they know what is happening
in the vegetable world?!..."
You write that "Every creature is born with intelligence
and instinct. Just because we can't seem to understand each
of our fellow creatures, doesn't mean that lobsters feel no
pain while dropped, alive, into a pot of boiling water."
Are you aware that a vegetable and a mineral also have a life,
and just because we can't understand it, doesn't mean that a
vegetable doesn't feel pain when you tear it from its roots
and consume it! And the same with minerals -- how do we know
and what right do we have do take anything in this world and
tear it away from its life and annihilate it in order to sustain
The answer my friend, is that we have no right! Indeed, damaging
any part of the universe and environment is a Torah prohibition
called 'baal tashchis.' Everything that exists -- mineral,
vegetable or animal -- is sacred.
The only right we have to consume food is because G-d who created
the entire universe gave us that permission. But only with one
fundamental condition: That we use the energy we gain from the
food for constructive, higher purposes, to transform this world
into a home for G-d. The Torah tells us that by consuming lower
creatures and using that energy for a higher purpose elevates
the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. Indeed, that is
why we were created in a way that we are dependent on nourishment
from a source outside of ourselves (not self sustaining like
an amoebae for example). See the Arizal, Likkutei Torah Parshat
If you indulge in a meal just to sustain yourself then you have
no right to destroy other creatures -- whether they be animal,
vegetable or mineral -- just to satisfy yourself.
This, in other words, was the main point of my article.
True, Adam and Eve were vegetarians and prohibited to eat meat,
and the consumption of meat began with Noah after the Flood.
However, you are mistaken when you write that "if it wasn't
for the plain stupidity and/or arrogance of Noah, we would still
be eating the healthy foods that G-d created for us." It
wasn't Noah that introduced meat consumption; it was G-d. As
specifically stated in Genesis 9:3 (and explained in the Talmud
Sanhedrin 109, cited in Rashi), that from Noah on G-d allowed
man to eat meat, lifting the prohibition to Adam. (Besides for
the fact that Noah is called a tzaddik in Torah -- so
I am not sure where you get the idea to qualify Noah's 'plain
stupidity and/or arrogance.'...)
The reason for this is because the world lost its refinement
in the Garden of Eden. But once meat was allowed, it could not
mean that G-d would introduce and sanction something evil. One
can argue the contrary: in a less refined world perhaps it is
even more important to avoid the consumption of meat?! Yet,
G-d did introduce the concept, allowing meat to be eaten. Why?
Because today our role is to refine and elevate even the more
difficult parts of existence.
This explains the consumption of meat in the Holy Temple offerings,
and in Shabbos and holiday meals. And the fact that many tzaddikim
ate meat. Hardly people who were cruel.
Still, eating meat must be done with caution, with even more
care than consuming other foods. For it is difficult to refine
meat. That is why we find many righteous people eating meat
sparingly if at all.
These are just brief points on a topic that truly requires more
May we all be blessed to learn from the Torah how to be sensitive
to the world around us -- and especially to other people --
and recognize our responsibility to transform the world into
a Divine abode.
My apologies for my overreaction to the veal issue. It
pushes all the wrong buttons... Thank you for your insight
and objectivity, the latter which I tend to dance around perhaps
too often. I try to practice humility and love of all my fellow
creatures. I now understand the "Wisdom" in "WisdomReb."