The Way to the Human Soul is Through the Stomach

On the Festival of Pesach we encounter a great emphasis on food. In fact the commandments of eating מצה and קרבן הפסח appear explicitly in the Torah.

Not only are we commanded to eat מצה and קרבן הפסח on Pesach, but we are also clearly expected to eat with desire and passion, as highlighted by the Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U’Matza 6): “Our sages forbid us from eating Matza on the evening of Pesach so that the Matza will be more conspicuous on Leil HaSeder … also it is forbidden to eat anything on the evening of Pesach from before Mincha-time so that the eating of the Matza on Leil HaSeder will be filled with passion …” Furthermore, it is best to eat the קרבן הפסח until being satisfied with it, and in the words of the Rambam (Hilchot Korban Pesach 8): “It is a preferable Mitzva to eat the meat of Pesach until satisfied …”

Since when is earthly food so important? Since when is it important to eat with passion until reaching the point of satisfaction?

Traditional Jewish Matzo sheet on a Passover Seder table.This seemingly extreme emphasis on food on Pesach is clearly reflected from the Bracha of Redemption in the Haggada, in which we thank Hashem for our redemption from slavery in Egypt to freedom, so as “to reach this night, on which we can eat Matza & Marror”. Furthermore, in this Bracha, we express our wish to return to Yerushalayim: “rejoicing in the building of your city and glad in your service and we may eat there of the sacrifices.” Was this the purpose of our redemption? Is this why we strive for salvation? For Eating?

Actually, it seems that our goal in life is indeed to eat. The first commandment which Adam & Chava received is that of eating (Bereshit 2): “And Hashem commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you shall freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it…”

The meaning of this commandment to eat could be explained by the words of the Bach (Orach Chaim, 208, with relation to his approach re the wording of ברכה מעין שלוש): “The holiness of the land, influenced by the holiness of the superior land, is also reflected in the land’s fruit, which absorb the sacredness of the Divine presence in the land of Israel. … by eating from the fruits of the Land of Israel, we are nourished by the holiness and purity of the Divine Presence and are satisfied by Hashem’s goodness.”

Eating in Eretz Yisrael, explains the Bach, is in fact an ideal method of worshiping Hashem. We do not ignore our physical needs, but rather elevate them. Eating should not be considered a means for mere physical satisfaction but rather a means of spiritual experience. In Eretz Yisrael, our bodies do not contradict our souls but rather support our souls. Our body can be holy, our physical passions and desires can indeed be uplifted.

Adam and Eve CartoonObviously, Adam & Chava missed out on the opportunity to eat in a spiritual manner. Instead, they focused on eating for the purpose of eating – in an earthly and purely physical manner – thus committing a sin – by eating from the tree of knowledge after Hashem had commanded them no to do so. Yet it is on Pesach that we find the strength to overcome the negative effects of this sin. On Pesach we triumph over our earthly passions – not by suppression of our bodily needs but rather by elevating our physical requirements. Rav Kook explains (Olat Reiya 2, 258), that the actual meaning of freedom on Pesach is the physical freedom we enjoy. On this Chag, when we celebrate the exodus from Egypt and the return to Eretz Yisrael we are actually celebrating the return to our physical freedom. In order for physical freedom to be significant, our spiritual freedom must also be realized, and both fulfill an important role in the celebration of Pesach.

Accordingly, Rav Charlap, in his commentary for the Haggadah explains as follows: “Prior to the sin of Adam and Chava, the proceedings out of the mouth of Hashem were recognized in every bite of food, and only due to the effects of eating from the Tree of Knowledge did eating become purely physical. Nevertheless the Matza, which is guarded from any contact with חמץ (also in the sense of “החמצה” meaning – missing out on opportunities) was not impaired and remained as it was prior to the eviction from the Garden of Eden. By guarding the Matza, and by reciting a blessing over it with the desired intent, the holiness of the Matza is revealed in its entire glory …”

The intent for us to reveal Hashem by eating, is accomplished on Pesach – זמן חירותנו when our national, spiritual and physical independence is declared – upon the returning to Eretz Yisrael – “ארץ זבת חלב ודבש”. It is only in Eretz Yisrael, where we experience קדושה by eating (and indeed the food is great!) where we can actually understand the meaning of the words of the ברכה מעין שלוש: “לאכול מפריה ולשבוע מטובה” – we shall eat from its fruit and be satiated from its (spiritual) goodness – אמן כן יהי רצון.

Rabbanit Pnina Neuwirth
Rabbanit Dr. Pnina Neuwirth is Rabbanit of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. She teaches Torah in several frameworks and was previously a professor at Stern College for Women. She also holds a Ph.D. Degree in tax law and teaches law at Haifa and Bar Ilan universities.


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