The Kabbalah Of Human Nutrition
By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, Jax FL
A joyous farbrengen was held one evening at the humble home of Rabbi Shmuel Betzalel Sheftel (The ‘Rashbatz’). For hours the group of Chassidim sat, toasting L’chaim’s, singing, talking, rebuking and inspiring one another.
As the clock marked the passing of the night, the meager platters of ‘Farbeisen’ (food with which to follow up the L’chaim vodka) ran out, so Rabbi Shmuel Betzalel instructed that the lamb being raised in his yard be slaughtered. A hot stew was prepared to fuel the Farbeisen for many an hour to come.
The next morning Rabbi Shmuel Betzalel’s wife came in from the yard with the distressing news that the lamb – which constituted the whole of the ‘family ranch’ – had disappeared! Said Rabbi Shmuel Betzalel: “No, no, the lamb has not disappeared. The lamb is very much here, it has only changed its sound. Yesterday it said meh-eh-eh. . . today it is saying Echo-o-d. . ., O-o-one. . . ” (as in G-d is one).
“Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
Have you ever wondered how it is that the highest life forms on planet earth are sustained by the lowlier levels of existence? Is it not strange that man should have to depend on animals, plants, and minerals for his vitality and nutrition? This question has not escaped the inquisitive eye of the Chassidic masters.
By way of explanation the Chassidic masters recall the basic principle of Kabbalah that there is a “spark of G-dliness” at the core of every created being. This Divine spark powers its existence and imbues it with its particular qualities and characteristics.
Chassidus goes on to assert that the vital spark contained in the so-called “lower” tiers of creation is in fact loftier than that of the higher realms. The lower a thing is the higher its spiritual core, man’s own vital force being no exception.
The aforementioned axiom is based on Kabbalistic teachings that our world, referred to as the world of Tikun, is the byproduct of a primordial world by the name of Tohu. The way in which our world has emerged was through the collapse of the primordial world by means of explosion.
Not unlike the physical order of nature, when a wall collapses the uppermost stones fall the farthest, in the “collapse” of the world of Tohu, the loftiest sparks of the Divine creative force fell farthest from their source and were incarnated within the most mundane creations of our world.
To our eyes, man is the most spiritual of earthly creatures, the animal exhibits a more sophisticated vitality than the plant, and the mineral shows no outward signs of life at all. In essence however, the sublimity of the spark of Divine life in an object is in converse relation to its manifest spiritual status. Thus the mineral has the energy to nourish the vegetable, both contain the nutrition to nourish the animal, and all three sustain human life.
However, only man has the capacity to direct the vital energy in himself toward a G-dly end. For man alone has been granted the gift of free choice. The animal, vegetable, or mineral cannot sin; their conformity with the Divine will is instinctual and inevitable, and thus devoid of moral significance. Only man can elect to do good and, by the force of his deeds, transcend the creature state to achieve intimacy with the Divine.
So, when man consumes the resources of the physical world, a bilateral transformation takes place. The slice of bread, piece of meat or glass of water confer their superior vitality to the person, imparting to him a spiritual potential that he does not himself possess. At the same time, if the person utilizes this vitality to perform a Divine deed, he elevates the plant, animal, or mineral he has consumed, releasing its vital soul from its mundane encasement, reuniting it with its Divine source.
Our Parsha Ekev contains the familiar phrase “Man does not live by bread alone” (8:3). The less familiar end of the verse reads: “Rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” Yet, if the point here is that G-d’s emanations are the source of our lives, why the use of bread as the subject matter, bread after all only becomes edible through the toils of man? Wouldn’t fruits be a better example of G-d’s miraculous influence on the world?
According to our earlier discussion, however, the use of bread as the object of choice is rather consistent, as bread exemplifies the toil of man. The message here is that just as with bread we must perceive the inner “Word of G-d “ – the G-dly source and purpose, so too with all the labors of our hands must we seek out the embedded “Word of his G-d” – the spiritual source and purpose.
In the above light it is clear that man’s every action has significance beyond what the eye can ever behold. A person’s spiritual mission is to introduce holiness and spirituality into all parts of the world subject to his influence. He must reveal the G-dly essence in all things – animal, vegetable and mineral – in which he comes into contact.
When man realizes his obligation under heaven – when he lives-up to his G-dly potential, not only does his purpose come into fruition but the entire universe does as well. Conversely, should man neglect his responsibility, he negates not just his own purpose and raison d’être but that of all lower orders of creation brought into existence to serve him.
“Walking in the street one must think words of Torah,” says the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (“Whether to actually pronounce the words depends on the place, if one is permitted according to Torah law to utter words of Torah there.) But when someone goes about not occupied with Torah words, the stone he treads on exclaims: “Bulach! (‘Clod’, in Russian) How dare you trample me! How are you any higher than I am?” (Hayom Yom, 7 Adar II).
Through our efforts in serving G-d through all our actions, as the verse states: “In All Your Ways, You Shall Know Him”, we will certainly transform this world into a G-dly vessel which will precipitate the Messainic era, may it be speedily in our day.