After work on Thursday I met with Rabbi E, an Orthodox Rabbi who hangs out on GW’s campus. We talked about various dietary laws in Judaism (there are so many!) and what they mean.
First we spoke about Kashrut. Rabbi E explained that oftentimes, the effects of keeping Kosher on our spirit are subtle. But the purpose of keeping kosher is to elevate every day habits into the spiritual.
- Keeping Kosher curates the conditions for us to serve God. It sets up the framework — a system that helps us make the food we eat into a blessing. It turns eating into active meditation helping us tap into the spiritual quality of our food.
- God wants us to be reminded of WHY we do the things we do. And conditioning yourself to be reminded of your ultimate purpose every time you eat is transcendental. (Note: This is amazing. imagine if we all had a built-in system that reminded us of our ultimate purpose several times each day!)
Think about it this way:
When someone goes for a run, you ask why are running?
To be healthy.
Why do you want to be healthy?
To live a long life.
Why do you want to live a long life?
To make a meaningful contribution to the world.
Same goes for food! We eat in order to have energy to make a meaningful contribution to the world. If we’re reminded about being connected to god each time we eat, that’s a lot of spiritual connection!
- Setting intentions. Keeping Kosher is a way of setting an intention to serve the world via the food we eat. When you set an intention at the beginning of eating (whether this be through refusal of certain foods or a blessing) to use the energy you are getting from the food to fuel your body to make the world a better place, it elevates the whole act of eating, even if you are unaware of the elevation. That’s why Rabbis say that the first thought of the morning is important – it sets an intention that elevates all of your actions throughout the day. Just that one minute of mindfulness before the action elevates the whole action. You don’t have to think about it all day. Don’t underestimate the small moment of mindfulness because it elevates the whole practice.
We also spoke about the fast of the Ra’avad. The Ra’avad was a contemporary of Maimonodes. He said that when eating something that you really like, you shouldn’t eat the last bite. He says that this is much more effective than a fast. Exercising self control on a daily basis. Moderation is a Jewish concept. This practice is a good way to expercise the self-discipline muscles.
Fasting on Yom Kippur is often connected to self-control. On Yom Kippur, we transcend the physical being. We experience that lack of physical self-control can lead us astray. This is a reminder that the physical aspects of our humanity (lust, desire, hunger) can lead us away from living a holy life. Jewish sages throughout the ages have created their own fasts for specific reasons. In Judaism, Mondays and Thursdays are typically fast days. Did you know that the day before the first of every Jewish month is a fast day? Me neither. It’s like a mini Rosh Hashana.
When we do t’shuva, God erases all of the static parts, and all that’s left is the pure goodness of those moments of connection and inspiration. The real person we are is the person that is pure, connected. The more that we elevate our actions, the more time we spend in that “connected” part.