Divine Israeli Meals (Behar-Bechukotai)
The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth. -Frances Moore Lappe
The reading of the Torah portion of Behar introduces us to the laws of the Sabbatical year, Shmita, when farmers in Israel are biblically mandated not to work the land. The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 25:20 gets philosophical and wonders as to why God would make such a materialistic world in the first place and make us humans so vitally dependent on physical sustenance to survive. If God ostensibly wants us to focus on our spiritual development and connection to the metaphysical, why would He create a system that has us preoccupied with food and material survival throughout the day and which creates the real possibility of us transgressing multiple commandments if we aren’t careful with what and how we consume things?
He answers that it has to do with the land of Israel. There is some intrinsic holiness to the land of Israel. Furthermore, the land of Israel has seven species of produce for which it is praised, namely wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. He explains that when a person consumes from these seven species (including Israeli bread, wine, olive oil and date honey) in purity and purpose, it’s a fast track to a correction of the seven traits of the soul and to somehow connect to God. He further states that it is more challenging to improve these traits and connect to God without the assistance of these seven species and the transcendent thoughts we should ideally have when consuming them.
However, he does provide two other remedies for those who don’t have easy access to Israeli products. The Shabbat meals, when eaten with the proper preparation and intention can have the same power as eating from the produce of Israel. The other remedy is that when eating any other food that is not of Israeli origin, to have in mind the land of Israel. It is no wonder that the Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals that we recite after eating, makes notable mention of the land of Israel.
So, in summary, God purposely made a very material world, but gave us some avenues, through the very physical act of eating, to connect with Him. With the proper intention, just eating from the seven species of Israel can enable that connection. Additionally, a Shabbat meal and thinking of the land of Israel can likewise assist us in bridging Heaven and Earth.
May we remember that even the basic act of eating is something that can be elevated.
To my friend, Rabbi Jonathan Snowbell, on his new Bible Tour Guide initiative. See below for more details.