As Rabbi Abraham of Slonium taught, "Contrary to what one might think, it is possible sometimes to come closer to God when you are involved in material things like eating and drinking than when you are involved with 'religious' activities like Torah and prayer. Because when the heart opens up due to . . . pleasure . . . then is the fit time to come close to holiness."
Jews connect eating to God, not just through the dietary codes of kashrut but also in the preparation of tables and meals. The table laden with food is meant to recall the altar of the Temple. (This has practical consequences that will be pleasing to moms everywhere: According to a Hasidic teaching, even clearing the table after a meal is a holy act, for it recalls the priests' removing sacred spoons from the Holy of Holies.) Every morsel of food is blessed before being eaten, and Jews recite a lengthy grace after meals. A consistent theme in the traditional literature on eating is that the pleasure of good food can point back to the Creator. There is a Hasidic tale of a rabbi who visited a very poor woman. She served him dinner, and the food was scrumptious. The rabbi, having enjoyed the meal tremendously, looked at the woman and declared, "This food tastes like heaven!" Smiling, the woman said, "That's because while cooking I prayed that God would put the taste of the Garden of Eden in the meal." Physical pleasure provided a foretaste of eternity.
Last night, I had fun. I experimented. I cooked a meal without a single receipe--angel hair pasta with a fresh tomatoe and basil sauce (with garlic, chopped olives, scallions, fresh and sundried tomatoes, and a splash of white wine), steamed artichokes, steamed muscles (in a blend of white wine, chicken broth, garlic, basil and scallions), and sauteed shrimp (in a splash of white wine, olive oil, garlic, basil and scallions). My ten-year-old daughter doesn't much like artichokes, but my five-year-old son, myself and my husband each ate a whole one. And we consumed every last morsel of the meal, heh, not a single bite left for my husband's lunch today. And it was delicious.
There are culinary moments when I am amazed at how the combination of flavors and tastes results in something beautiful, beyond what each individual piece could ever accomplish on its own. I can't help but think of Kingdom living. Sometimes, I wonder if the better image for the people of God might be a meal reather than a body. The flavors, spices and explosion of beauty. How it nourishes and brings comfort and pleasure. How it brings people together. Indeed, how it "provides a foretaste of eternity." If we can do this with a simple meal, surely we can live this way as God's people. I long for us to. I believe we can. I know we can, for this is who we are called and enabled to be.
(Images: my dinner table last night)