The Ethics, and Blessings, of Eating

הכלל כי באכילה שאדם מישראל אוכל מתקן הפגם של אדם הראשון שפגם באכילה דהיינו על ידי מצות שישראל עושים באכילה הן בברכה על האכילה הן בשאר מצוה שישראל עושים בהמאכל קודם האכילה בבשר שחיטה ומליחה ובכל מאכל יש מצות מתקן הפגם של אדם הראשון. ובזה מבואר ואוכל אכלתי לא נאמר אלא אכלתי ואוכל עוד, כלומר בזה שאוכל עוד על ידי מצות יתוקן מה שפגמתי.

The verse which states "Take for yourself from all that is edible" is said in the language that implies one who feeds others. This is explained in the Midrash which states, "The woman that was given to me gave me (fruit) from the tree (and I eat)." The past tense, I ate, was not used in the verse. The Midrash teaches a general rule that through eating,a Jew eats in the manner of fixing the flaw of Adam HaRishon that was made through his eating. This fixing is done by way of the mitzvot that Jews do when eating, which are blessings said of one's food and other blessings said in regards to food before consumption. Therefore, the reason why the verse says "I eat" and not "I ate" implies that an element of Adam's original eating continues to this day. Thus through the consciousness of our eating, we can repair that which was flawed before.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How does this text impact your "eating consciousness?"

2. How might eating consciously connect us to Adam HaRishon? Does this make sense to you?

(א) וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־נֹ֖חַ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֑יו וַיֹּ֧אמֶר לָהֶ֛ם פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֖וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (ב) וּמוֹרַאֲכֶ֤ם וְחִתְּכֶם֙ יִֽהְיֶ֔ה עַ֚ל כָּל־חַיַּ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ וְעַ֖ל כָּל־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם בְּכֹל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תִּרְמֹ֧שׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה וּֽבְכָל־דְּגֵ֥י הַיָּ֖ם בְּיֶדְכֶ֥ם נִתָּֽנוּ׃ (ג) כָּל־רֶ֙מֶשׂ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּא־חַ֔י לָכֶ֥ם יִהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָ֑ה כְּיֶ֣רֶק עֵ֔שֶׂב נָתַ֥תִּי לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־כֹּֽל׃

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And your fear and your dread shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the fowl of the heaven; upon everything that creeps upon the ground and upon all the fish of the sea, [for] they have been given into your hand[s]. Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything. [Chabad Online Translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

What commandments are included in this text? What is Noah and the people of his time allowed to eat that those prohibited for those before them? Why might this change in what humans are allowed to eat have happened after the story of Noah and the Flood?

(ג) כָּל־רֶ֙מֶשׂ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּא־חַ֔י לָכֶ֥ם יִהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָ֑ה כְּיֶ֣רֶק עֵ֔שֶׂב נָתַ֥תִּי לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־כֹּֽל׃ (ד) אַךְ־בָּשָׂ֕ר בְּנַפְשׁ֥וֹ דָמ֖וֹ לֹ֥א תֹאכֵֽלוּ׃

Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. [JPS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does this verse permit us to do? How does it restrict our consumption?

2. Why do you think Noah and future generations were allowed to eat meat?

(א) לא יטעום אדם כלום עד שיברך שנאמר (תהילים כד) לה' הארץ ומלואה הנהנה מן העולם הזה בלא ברכה מעל עד שיתירו לו כל המצות לא ישתמש אדם בפניו ידיו ורגליו אלא לכבוד קונהו שנאמר (משלי טז) כל פעל ה' למענהו.

A person should not taste anything before blessing, as it says “To God is the land, and God fills it.” One who benefits from this world without blessing has stolen from God, until [one performs] all the commandments which permit the food to that person. A person should only use their face, hands, and feet for the honor of the Creator, as it says, “All acts of God are for God’s sake.” [Translation by Uri L’Tzedek. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why do we steal from God if we eat before blessing?

2. Why do we say a blessing over our food?

3. Who ultimately owns our food and land? How does this affect our understanding of property and ownership?

תנו רבנן אסור לו לאדם שיהנה מן העולם הזה בלא ברכה וכל הנהנה מן העולם הזה בלא ברכה מעל מאי תקנתיה ילך אצל חכם ילך אצל חכם מאי עביד ליה הא עביד ליה איסורא אלא אמר רבא ילך אצל חכם מעיקרא וילמדנו ברכות כדי שלא יבא לידי מעילה.

Our Rabbis have taught: It is forbidden to a person to enjoy anything of this world without a blessing, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a blessing, that person commits sacrilege. What is the remedy? They should consult a wise person. But what will the wise person do? The person has already committed the offence! Raba said: What this means is that one should consult a wise person beforehand, so that the wise person would teach them blessings, so that they should not commit sacrilege. [translation by Hazon. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. The word "me'ilah" refers to the sin of using something holy for personal benefit. Standing in the shade of the Temple on a hot day was a me'ilah, as was eating food that had already been offered on the alter. What do you think of this idea?

2. Which sets of wise people might you consult in order to learn how to eat healthily and responsibly?

(א) כֵּיצַד מְבָרְכִין עַל הַפֵּרוֹת. עַל פֵּרוֹת הָאִילָן אוֹמֵר, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ, חוּץ מִן הַיַּיִן, שֶׁעַל הַיַּיִן אוֹמֵר בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן. וְעַל פֵּרוֹת הָאָרֶץ אוֹמֵר בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, חוּץ מִן הַפַּת, שֶׁעַל הַפַּת הוּא אוֹמֵר הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ. וְעַל הַיְרָקוֹת אוֹמֵר בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי דְשָׁאִים:

How does one recite blessings for fruits? For fruits growing on a tree, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the tree," Except for wine; For wine, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the vine." For fruits growing from the earth, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the ground," Except for bread; For bread, one says, "...Who brings forth bread from the earth." For vegetables, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the ground." Rabbi Yehudah says: One should say instead, "...Who creates various types of herbs." [Translation by Kayam Farms]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the effect of having specific categories for food blessings?

2. What do the different categories show about how the rabbis understood the natural world?

3. Why do you think these categories were chosen? Would you assign categories differently? Are there any missing, in your opinion?

(ד) הביאו לפניו מיני תרגימא מברך עליהן בורא מיני כיסנין.

(ה) על הזרעים הוא אומר בורא מיני זרעים על הדשאים הוא אומר בורא מיני דשאים ועל הירקות הוא אומר בורא פרי האדמה רבי יהודה אומר ברוך מצמיח האדמה בדברו ר"מ אומר אפי' ראה את הפת ואמר ברוך שברא את הפת זו כמה נאה פת זו הרי זו ברכתה אפילו ראה תאנים ואמר ברוך [מי] שברא תאנים הללו כמה [הן] נאות זו היא ברכתן ר' יוסי אומר כל המשנה ממטבע שטבעו חכמים בברכות לא יצא רבי יהודה אומר כל שנשתנה מברייתו [ושנה ברכתו] יצא.

If they brought before one types of desserts, one recites over them the blessing, 'Creator of types of sweets;' over edible seeds one recites, 'Creator of types of seeds;' and over other herbs one recites, 'Creator of types of herbs;' and over greens one recites, 'Creator of the fruit of the ground.' Rabbi Judah says: [One recites,] 'Blessed are You Whose word the earth sprouts.' Rabbi Meir says: Even if one saw a loaf [of bread] and said, 'Blessed are You Who created this loaf, how nice it is,' that serves as its blessing. If one saw figs and said, 'Blessed are You Who created these figs, how nice they are," that serves as their blessing. Rabbi Yose says: Anyone who departs from the formula which the sages established for blessings has not fulfilled one's obligation. [translation by Hazon. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the significance of the word "even" (afilu) in what Rabbi Meir is arguing? What can we infer about the previous formulations by contrast?

2. What does this discussion in the Tosefta show about the development of food brachot?

3. Do you agree with Rabbi Meir or Rabbi Yose?

4. If you regularly say brachot, how does this practice help you feel gratitude? If you don't normally say brachot, how do you feel when you do?

רַבִּי בָּא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב חִיָיא בַּר אַבָּא: אָכַל מְהַלֵּך, עוֹמֵד וּמְבָרֵךְ. אָכַל עוֹמֵד, יוֹשֵׁב וּמְבָרֵךְ. אָכַל יוֹשֵׁב, מֵיסֵב וּמְבָרֵךְ. אָכַל מֵיסֵב, מִתְעַטֵּף וּמְבָרֵךְ. אִם עָשָׁה כֵן הֲרֵי הוּא כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת

Talmud Yerushalmi, Brachot 7:5

Rabbi Ba the son of Rav Hiyya bar Abba teaches: If he ate while walking, he must stand and bless. If he ate standing, he must sit and bless. If he ate sitting, he must recline [formally] and bless. If he ate reclining, he must enwrap himself and bless. And if he did this, he is like the angels who serve God.

Suggested Discussion Questions

What is the central point you think that Rabbi Ba is making? What might this mean in your life?

Blu Greenberg, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., First Fireside, 1985), P. 117-118

I believe that the purpose of kashrut is to make eating a special experience and to serve as a reminder of a Jew's ethical conscience as well as of the other unique teachings of Judaism. To me, distinctiveness and not separation is the Jew's calling. This feeling is possible in the presence of non-observant Jews and of non-Jews. The values of friendship, human solidarity, and socializing are highly esteemed Jewish values; making a living and exchanging professional service (sometimes performed over a meal) also are respected in Jewish culture. One of the great qualities of the Jewish tradition is its ability to balance contradictions- idealism and realism, Jewish particularism and unusual concern for humanity. Similarly, in the act of eating, one can strike that balance between fidelity to one's own principles and shared friendship and respectful contact with others. .... Suggested Discussion Questions Does this philosophy resonate with you? What social justice themes emerge from this text?