Why are we made of the same ingredients as our food? This is a favorite classroom question of mine, with a follow-up hint/question: Where does every morsel of food we eat come from? I am answered with silence at first, and then a voice offers: The Store? Finally someone gets it: Everything we eat was alive, like us. That‘s why we have the same ingredients as our food. Albert Einstein, that fabulous advocate for a sense of wonder, knew that there are only two ways to live your life: one as though nothing is a miracle, the other as though everything is a miracle. Nothing is more miraculous than the act of eating. You become what you eat – our ancestors knew this. They raised herd animals, but didn’t eat meat often. Three times a year they placed their hands on an animal’s head and knew it was a sacrifice, a life for theirs, intense. This act of sacrifice drew them closer to the Creator- the word for sacrifice korban means to draw close. Why? Perhaps a profound appreciation for the miracle of working bodies and food, I don’t know. Maybe it reveals that acts of sacrifice help make our lives holy.
This week begins the reading of a new book in Torah, Leviticus, which many modern folks feel very uncomfortable with. Many sections deal with the details of the animal sacrifices of the ancient Tabernacle, and Temple.There’s a yuck factor for us, who don’t want to deal with, or think of the realities of where our meat comes from: we call them primitive. But it’s not primitive to fully understand the life that’s been sacrificed whenever we eat a morsel of meat. That creature’s very substance becomes our energy and materials – it’s a profound transfer. In a world of connections we often dismiss the connections we have to other creatures – and the animal, the physical in us. The truth is what many pet owners and nature lovers know in their hearts, we are deeply connected. I am a pet lover, and a nature lover too. Feeling that connection strongly becomes a challenge to anyone that eats meat thought-fully.
This system of sacrifices is also a brilliant way of making amends for wrongs, celebrating thanksgivings. All in a package deal of eating and sharing meat with the Levites and others on special occasions. We dismiss ancient ways and instead employ mechanized meat raising, cruel treatment of animals and slaughter house employees. We encourage disconnect, discourage spirituality, and the chanting of blessings. These modern ways are what’s truly primitive!
I am reading an amazing book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, about a child named Lia of the Hmong community of California. These loving, land-connected, live-free-or-die folks still practice animal sacrifice today. When the family gets Lia back at one point in the story they are beyond grateful. They drive out to a cattle ranch, buy an animal, sacrifice it, tote the meat back at great expense to host a huge celebration which feeds the community. Being so very poor, this was a sacrifice on every level.
After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we found other pathways to spirituality and connections: prayer, tzedakah, mitzvah. But in order to lead to holiness these acts have to be real: intense. Yet how many of us mumble prayer by rote, write checks to charity without feeling the connections, sacrifice for our loved ones or do righteous acts without knowing it’s healing the world! Our challenge is to make our lives holy: pay attention! find connections! say a blessing and really mean it! Choose to live your life knowing everything is a miracle. oh, and you might consider eating a little less meat, it has enormous implications for climate change and feeding the hungry of the world. Eating and our choices: more profound than you ever guessed. You are what you eat.
A song for this week, by Todd Herzog: Tov L’Hodot which means: it’s good to give thanks, song 11 in the jukebox at toodherzog.com
The chorus: Tov L’hodot, I won’t taken these things for granted; Tov L’hodot now I see the world anew;
Tov L’hodot, friends and family bring laughter to my soul, and my life would have no meaning without You.