Judaism is about attaching ourselves to G‑d. How connected to G‑d a person feels is an indication of how ‘Jewish’ they are. All the commandments are ways to attach ourselves to G‑d. Even the word for commandment in Hebrew, mitzvah, is connected to the Aramaic word tzavta, meaning connection.

...there is no difference in our activities between eating & drinking and prayer & Torah study.

It is intriguing to note that Judaism’s attitude about eating is seen in almost exactly the same light as any other commandment. Just as there are divine sparks that are "food for our soul" in each action of tefillin, Shabbat or honoring a parent through which we attach ourselves to G‑d, even more so are there divine sparks in food. Through eating kosher food with the proper intentions and blessings, just like doing the commandments with the right intentions and blessings, we attach ourselves to G‑d and can reach a higher spiritual level and fulfillment of our purpose. As Rabbi Nissan Mindel writes in his book, My Prayer (page 279) there is no difference in our activities between eating & drinking and prayer & Torah study. The Jewish people are "One nation on earth", (Samuel II 7:23) a nation that makes one from many.

These ideas are the power behind the Talmudic teaching (Berachot 55a) that after the temple was destroyed the (dining) table became like the Altar and our eating a divine service. And it gives a new understanding of the verse that COMMANDS us to say grace after meals in this week’s Torah portion, "And you shall eat and be satisfied and [then] you shall bless G‑d your Lord." (Deut. 8:10)

The following story takes the idea of eating to another level and provides an even deeper insight into the idea of spiritual balance and Judaism’s idea of the mixing of spiritual and physical:

An elderly chasid once approached Rebbe Avraham Yaakov from Sadigura and in great distress asked him the following question. "Why now do I not feel energized from the study of Torah and doing the commandments? When I was young, nothing could stop me; I used every moment for spiritual efforts!"

These words truly affected the tzadik since it was clear that they were coming from the depths of the chasid's heart. Rabbi Avraham Yaacov asked his follower to review before him his entire day, from rising till sleep. The chasid described a very rigorous and demanding daily schedule of study and prayer, his morning meal and even intimate details of his personal life. When the Rebbe asked him about the absence of an evening meal, the chasid replied, "True, there is little time for it."

...a person's evil inclination is akin to an angel who envies a Jewish person's fulfillment of the commandments...

"When a person gets up in the morning", the Rebbe responded, "immediately his evil inclination attempts to take control of the body. But since a person begins with a whole series of commandments - the ritual washing of the hands, morning blessings, blessings on the Torah, the recitation of the Shema, tzitzit, tefillin, prayer and the study of Torah - he is able to overcome his evil inclination and subdue it. This is because a person's evil inclination is akin to an angel who envies a Jewish person's fulfillment of the commandments, and therefore only through them is one able to conquer it completely.

"This is not true in the evening when we do not have this plethora of commandments, not tzitzit, not tefillin, and even the evening prayers, some say that they are optional, and the study of Torah also does not have the same power as in the day, since there are great scholars who suggest that the night is only for sleep. After it all, evening does not have the spiritual power of the day and therefore evil is strengthened and can turn a person towards impure thoughts.

"A person who understands this makes certain to engage himself in commandments even in the evening, meaning a meal with bread, so that he is obligated to ritually wash his hands with a blessing, say the HaMotzi blessing before his first bite of bread, was his hands [fingers] again at the end of the meal and recite birkat hamazon—the long blessing after eating a meal with bread that is a commandment from the Torah. Since he is actively involved in positive commandments he regains the ability to conquer evil, in the night like in the day.

"This was also the spiritual power behind the burning of the limbs and organs of the Burnt offering on the altar all night long. The other types of offerings - the Sin and Guilt offerings - atone for active transgressions. In these cases, it was the EATING of the offering by the Kohanim that brought about the atonement for the sinner. The burnt offering on the other hand was to atone for inappropriate thoughts that do not involve action. Atonement took place with the complete burning of the animal parts on the altar with no eating involved. Since, usually, negative thoughts (begin at least) in the evening, when we do not have all of the physical commandments, it was arranged that the organs of the Burnt offering should be burnt in the night time, to help subdue evil thoughts."

Today, when because of our sins we do not have a holy Temple or an altar, our table is in place of the altar. Through making a meal with bread in the evening, we are able to repair not only negative actions akin to the Kohanim eating of the offerings, but even our negative thoughts.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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