Guest post by Yerachmiel Goldstein.
I’ve always had a weird relationship with food. There aren’t many foods I don’t like and what I do like I can’t say I truly enjoy. Eating food for enjoyment, for me at least, often turns into a semi obsessive situation. For example, imagine a wedding where a plate of cookies is quickly ushered into the room. I notice them right away but I choose to stand back not wanting to join in with overtly masculine bunch running to see who gets to the dessert table first. I wait quietly in a corner until the masculine ones retreat. In the meantime, I develop a well thought out plan to take at least one cookie without anyone noticing. As soon as they leave, I inch forward towards the cookies trying to act as calm and collected as possible. I begin to sweat due to my intense anxiety and Polish gene pool, but still, every step closer to the cookies is a great success. However, with every great success come great challenges. Guarding the cookies like a concerned grandmother is an ex Soviet Jew who appears to be in his late sixties or early nineties. I try to imagine he’s not there but he begins to eye me meticulously. I inch closer to the table and when I think he’s not looking, my hand nervously reaches towards the cookies. I feel a sense of low self esteem but a great feeling of accomplishment as I have succeeded in my obviously well thought out plan. I then run far, far away where no one will ever find me eating cookies.
Though this event didn’t occur exactly like this in real life, any situation could easily turn into this. But I think my life is heading in a much better direction. Part of this optimism is related to eating with a purpose.
I can’t say this eating with a purpose ideal is something that will happen regularly, but once a lifestyle is built around eating food purely to improve my mental and physical state, life seemingly would be just a bit fuller and the attraction to a cookie focused lifestyle would be far less. However, it’s not just about what you eat, but of course, the way you eat, the intention in what you are eating; asking yourself the big why before you take the big bite.
In chapter eight of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe discusses the importance of eating for a G-dly purpose and the many ramifications that would take place if you didn’t. However, why does the Alter Rebbe go into such detail about these punishments? I understand that food should be eaten for the right purpose, but if not, seemingly it’s not such a big deal; we are talking about Cholov and Pas Yisroel cookies, not cookies from a Denny’s in Nebraska!
It’s interesting to note that before this chapter, the Alter Rebbe told us what the animal soul is and specifically, what it wants (See chapters 1- 7). Obviously the animal soul wants to eat and be involved in other very physical things. However, the animal soul is in a state of kelipot nogah, a state that has the potential to elevate the permitted physicality in this world (kosher cookies) or bring it down to a lower state than it was. # Being that the animal soul has this ability, the affect we have on the food and that the food has on us, is dependent on how we eat it. So in regards to pas and Cholov yisrael cookies, the alter Rebbe seems to tell the reader, “Do you really think this food was created in such a way to sneak them into a napkin and run away in child like glee!” The food is simply to serve the one up on high. This food can become energy, fuel, gas, power! It gives the body vitality and life! But, it isn’t the source of life.
From this perspective, we can see the food as a tool rather than an escape. And in turn, the time spent at that same wedding obsessing about attaining a cookie from an ex soviet Jew could be spent dancing.