Parshas Re’eh – The Happiness of Eating: Lifnei Hashem

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פרשת ראה

In Parshas ראה, Hashem commands the עם ישראל to bring קרבנות to the בית המקדש. “You shall eat there [ירושלים] before Hashem your G-d and you shall rejoice.” To eat and rejoice! And although this may imply singing and even dancing, yet singing and dancing are never explicitly mentioned in the Torah. And therefore, we understand that the eating of the קרבנות is in itself the rejoicing that Hashem speaks about here. Although we have read these words many times, we should stop for a moment and appreciate the significance of this lesson. It is remarkable that Hashem considers eating as the fulfillment of a person’s desire for happiness. In this, our holy nation is thereby entirely different from all the nations of antiquity that sought enjoyment from various activities, none of which are mentioned in Hashem’s Torah. The nations around us searched for the elusive happiness with spectacular demonstrations such as races, gladiators, orgies of indecency of various kinds, parades to display power or luxuries, presentations of plays, stories of heroes and all other forms of foolishness. And I’m sorry to say, that our holy nation has been influenced by the nations around us. Jews are wasting their lives travelling far away on trips searching for happiness. Plays and movies. Concerts and ballgames. Eating out and amusement parks. Of course you should always be happy. And there are many things you can do to increase your happiness. We’ll talk about that here one day. But it is not by running around searching the world for good times. This is not the Torah way. The Torah never hints at any other pleasure other than the simple joy of eating. The self-controlled holy people find joy in eating “before Hashem.” The simple joy of eating, the gratitude for the food and the awareness that they ate “before Hashem” – in awareness of the One Who was providing the food, that was their joy.

And if the Torah is letting us know that our joy “before Hashem” should be in the so-called simple pleasure of eating, it is only right that we study this sugya, this topic, as it is more crucial for your service of Hashem than many other sugyos you might study. The opportunity to gain awareness of Hashem’s kindliness by means of eating is important enough to earn repetition in the Torah frequently. “Before Hashem your G-d you shall eat it” (D’varim 12:18). “And you shall eat before Hashem your G-d and you shall rejoice” (ibid. 14:26). “And you shall eat and be satiated and you shall bless Hashem” (ibid. 8:10). Our holy nation gains perfection and holiness through eating. The nations of the world that wish to bring offerings may do so, but they are limited to burnt-offerings that involve no eating. They may not eat of offerings, for the physical act of eating bestirs their bestiality and is the opposite of holiness and their bodies are therefore unfit for holy food. But we, the holy nation, can learn to eat in holiness and become great through eating.

The first thing that we take note of is that the entire earth, with all its phenomena, is devoted to the purpose of creating and supporting life, through a wonderful system that supplies the food needs of all the living. פותח את ידך ומשביע לכל חי רצון – “You open up Your hand, and You satiate the desires of all the living.” Chazal tell us that כל האומר תהלה לדוד בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן עולם הבא – “Anyone who says אשרי every day is guaranteed to have a portion in the World to Come” (B’rachos 4b). And the Gemara gives the reason why. Because it includes the פסוק of פותח את ידך ומשביע לכל חי רצון. Do you hear that? That פסוק is so important that it guarantees you עולם הבא. And so we are careful to say it every day. Some are even careful to say it three times a day. But what good is it if you don’t know what you’re saying? You have to know what you’re saying. It’s the internalizing of the great principle of this פסוק that makes you fit for the World to Come. Saying the פסוק is supposed to change you. It should change your personality. You think it’s a תפלה to Hashem for parnasa? No, not at all! These words are a recognition of the vast wisdom of Hashem that we perceive in the food supply system on this earth. “You open up Your hand and You satiate the desire of all the living.” The opening of His hand denotes the full power of the mighty hand of Hashem which feeds all the living. All of His power is for kindliness and the most evident and constant example of His powerful kindness is in the abundance of food, the dynamic food supply and the kindness innate in the details of every solitary item of food. The vast phenomena of the sun, the force of gravity, the winds, the rains, the snow and the atmospheric gases all cooperate in the mighty function of supplying you with your breakfast, lunch and supper – as well as all that snacking in between. And of course these systems all cooperate – because they are all really the mighty hand of the One Hashem. And if you open your eyes, if you open your mind, you see פותח את ידך ומשביע לכל חי רצון all day long. Even if you are a city-boy, and you don’t live out in the boondocks where you can see the cornfields and the cows. Keep your eyes open just a bit and all day long you’ll see the trucks driving back and forth. Some are loaded with fruits and vegetables. Others with milk and cheese. And poultry and meats. And loaves of every type of bread. And from early in the morning, before you’re even thinking about getting up, these trucks are on the road and unloading the cases of food. And that’s only one of the many steps of the long journey of Hashem’s open hand.

But you should be asking yourself: What is the purpose of all this? Such a wondrous and stupendous food system of interrelated sub-systems, and for what? Just to provide food? For what purpose did Hashem do this? Hashem, Who created the whole world and everything in it, didn’t have to create people with the need for food in order to live. But He did. And He created a most complicated system of feeding us. What do you think, that it was without a purpose?! Hashem had to create a food system only because He made humans?! No, not at all. And even if Hashem wanted us to eat to live, did He have to create the marvels of the food supply? The nourishment could have been tasteless and colorless, and without aroma, and we would have been happy to ingest the life-giving materials which would supply us with energy. The measure of the kindliness of Hashem is apparent not only in the abundant food supply and the intricate systems that take place to feed us, but even more in the tastes and qualities of the food itself. The Creator made the eating function into a considerable pleasure by bestowing on our food a wide variety of tastes, colors and aromas specifically to induce us into recognizing Him through the kindness He bestows. The large amount of fruits, with each fruit itself coming in various flavors and shades of color. A variety of poultry and fish and meat. Varieties of grains and vegetables and fruit. And various spices and condiments. All for the purpose of inducing us to “rejoice before Hashem.” So that we should rejoice in this endless variety and appreciate the infinite kindness and wisdom of Hashem. The creation of food was for the singular purpose of making us aware of the great kindness of Hashem.

In Mesichta Chullin (4b) we find a very interesting observation that Chazal make: “There is no persuasion unless by food and drink.” When you want to make that big sale to an important customer, you make sure to take him out to a good restaurant. Of course, you’ll be talking about how your prices can’t be matched, and about the quality of your goods – but you need that good steak to induce him into closing that deal. Now, pay attention to this: The wide variety of foods and drinks in this world is Hashem persuading us. He is doing His best to persuade us to perfect ourselves in awareness of His kindliness and wisdom. All day long Hashem is trying to seduce you with the endless variety of good foods. All day long, He’s working His hardest to wake you up. He’s seducing you into perfection and into success in this world. But we’re sleeping. Even when we’re eating our minds are fast asleep. But when a person is wise enough to allow himself to fall in love with Hashem, when he allows himself to be persuaded by Hashem, then he has started out on the road to perfection.

When a person eats, he enjoys his food. Hashem made it that way. Now, I know you tzadikim don’t want to hear that. Maybe you want to go to places where they’ll teach you a different way to be a tzadik. To swallow your food whole so that you shouldn’t benefit from the pleasures of this world. To only eat the blandest tasting​ foods and not to enjoy this world too much. Well, you came to the wrong place. Here, we’re going to learn how to fall in love with Hashem over a piece of watermelon. Because if you don’t, then you’re frustrating the wonderful plan of Hashem. And it’s not me saying this. Listen to these words of the Yerushalmi (Kiddushin 4:12). עתיד אדם ליתן דין לפני המקום על כל מה שראו עיניו ולא רצה לאכול ממנו. “A person will have to one day give accounting before Hashem for all the the food that he saw, that he didn’t want to eat from.” Now, Hashem doesn’t want you to be a glutton. But He made food for the purpose of giving you the tangible opportunity to recognize Him. And therefore, you will be brought to judgement for not taking advantage of the many opportunities given to you, to recognize His great name. You also say it yourself after you eat bread. הזן את העולם כולו בטובו בחן בחסד וברחמים…בעבור שמו הגדול – “You feed the whole world with goodness, with grace, with kindliness and with mercy…for the sake of His great name.” Did you ever stop to think about what you’re saying? Hashem, You feed us with such חן and חסד and רחמים. The whole world revolves around bringing food to my table. בשבילי נברא העולם. And You have created for me an endless variety of foods and tastes. And for what? For what purpose did You do all this? בעבור שמו הגדול. “For the sake of His great name.” The name of Hashem denotes our perception of Him. And we are being fed by Hashem so that we should recognize His great name – שמו הגדול. All of the kindliness inherent in this world full of food, is for that purpose only. To cause you to recognize Hashem. To appreciate the gift of food for the purpose of recognizing and appreciating the Giver.

In the beginning of the Mesillas Yesharim the מחבר, the author, tells us the following: האדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על ד׳ – “Man was created for the singular purpose of deriving pleasure from Hashem.” But my Rebbi, Rav Isaac Sher, would read it like this: האדם לא נברא אלא להתענג – “Man was created for the singular purpose of deriving pleasure.” And he would stop there. You’re in this world to enjoy all of the many benefits that Hashem is bestowing upon you. The endless variety of food combinations, the tastes, the aromas and the textures were created for your pleasure. Hashem wants you to enjoy what He’s giving you. But you can’t stop after the word להתענג. My Rebbi said you have to finish up with על ד׳. You have to use that enjoyment to recognize the Great Benefactor. You must never forget that final step of בעבור שמו הגדול. Hashem prepared this world full of food – for you. All for the purpose of ensuring that you fall in love with Him.

All of the עונג that you derive from the food of this world, is meant to bring you to להתענג על ד׳. And if you don’t use the function of eating to recognize Hashem’s greatness, then you are no better than Mrs. Esposito, the Italian woman down the block from you. She also cooks up good dishes. And she also enjoys the food. Maybe even more than you. But she doesn’t “rejoice before Hashem.” Hashem is the furthest thing from her mind. And many us are not any better than her. We’re eating the same way she does. And we’re accomplishing as much in עבודת ד׳ as she does.

And that’s what we read in last week’s Parsha. ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ד׳ אלוקיך…השמר לך פן תשכח את ד׳ אלוקיך – And you shall eat, and you shall be satiated and you shall bless Hashem your G-d…Be on guard lest you forget Hashem” (D’varim 8:10-11). We are being taught here that the purpose of food is to “bless Hashem your G-d.” And immediately, we are warned, “Be on guard, lest you forget Hashem.” And that’s because forgetting Hashem when you eat is a complete and utter frustration of Hashem’s intentions. Hashem is warning us not to eat and enjoy, and stop there. Don’t forget the One Who is feeding you. We eat with “happiness before Hashem” in order to become more and more aware of Him. But for our frail minds, always being buffeted by the winds of the daily occurrences in life, it is sometimes difficult. You sit down to eat and before you know it, you’re done. Your mind was everywhere except with Hashem. And therefore we are warned by Hashem, “You shall eat and be satiated…Be on guard lest you forget Hashem.” Food is the great testimonial to remember the Creator; and to not utilize the opportunity is a supreme error.

Now, you’re eating anyways. Most of you are eating every day, no? Some of you are even eating three times a day, maybe with some snacks in between. And even you tzadikim, you פרושים, have to eat something – you can’t starve, can you?! Even a plain piece of bread and some water is a pleasure. It’s an עונג – you can’t deny that. So whatever you’re doing in life, you’re going to be eating the foods that Hashem is providing us. And Hashem is providing it only בעבור שמו הגדול. He wants you להתענג. But it must be על ד׳. It must always be לפני ד׳. But the only way you will succeed at ואכלתם לפני ד׳ is if you are willing to throw off the shackles of laziness and get to work. It will take some effort on your part.

Now, you won’t be able to become an עבד ד׳, a servant of Hashem, through eating, overnight. It will take some mental effort and some work. But pushing it off is not the solution because it has to be done if you want to become a success. And who doesn’t want to be a success? Who doesn’t want to be great?

So you’ll start slowly. Instead of devouring your food with the same amount of thought as a cow grazing in the field, you must begin to practice eating with thought. If not, then forever you’ll remain in the same place as Mrs. Esposito down the block. So many times we eat something and we finish it off before we even realize we were eating. If your mind is always in flux, and you don’t concentrate on the service of Hashem that you have before you, then you won’t succeed. Greatness in the service of Hashem is dependent to a great extent on your mind, on your thoughts. And therefore, whenever you eat something, it could be a delicious piece of steak, an apple or a simple hard-boiled egg, that’s your opportunity for greatness. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by what’s going on around you. Don’t lose the opportunity to grow great in this עבודה. Don’t be the fool who is always telling others about the greatness he will achieve someday. אל תאמר לכשאפנה אשנה, שמא לא תפנה – “Don’t say, ‘When I have time I will study,’ for maybe you will never have that time” (Avos 2:4) One day I’ll do this and one day I’ll do that. A nechtiger tug! That one day is today. אם לא עכשיו אימתי. “If not now, then when?” And the opportunity is right there by your kitchen table.

Add the thought, “I’m eating because I want to appreciate the kindness of Hashem. You Hashem are זן את העולם כולו – You are feeding the whole world. And right now You’re feeding me בחן ובחסד וברחמים – with favor and with kindness and with mercy.” Hashem is the One who makes food taste good. You know, food doesn’t taste like turpentine. Food doesn’t taste like dirt. Food doesn’t taste like paper. Food tastes good! Hashem made food taste good in order to urge you along in becoming more and more aware of His wisdom and kindness. And He created all types of flavors and tastes for this purpose. All things to flavor it with. Onions! And salt! And sometimes pepper! He’s trying His hardest to get your attention. And you’re not even thinking about it at all! It’s so much fun to be eating. It’s delicious and filling. And, not only is it fun, but it’s refreshing and invigorating for my body and soul. I’m a new man after a good meal. These are important thoughts. Think about them while you’re eating.

So the food is given to you with Hashem’s blessing that it should taste good. He’s not giving you tasteless white vitamins just so that you shouldn’t die – just to keep you alive. No! He gives you a wide variety of things that He created for the purpose of making you happy while you eat. So learn to enjoy that piece of bread. As you bite into the bread and your saliva is flowing, you’re chewing and you’re experiencing the תענוג of eating bread. So what’s the purpose of that pleasure? Is the purpose to become a בעל תאוה, a glutton?! You’re going to say, “What is Rav Miller saying? Is he telling us that the purpose of the tasty food is to enjoy it, to fulfill our תאוות, our desires?!”

So Hashem says, “Yes. I want you to learn how to enjoy a piece of bread. I want you to enjoy it.” But that’s only the first step. And then you should say, “Hashem, I know that You’re doing this for a purpose. It’s not an accident that food tastes good. You prepared my food בחן ובחסד וברחמים. What’s the purpose of giving me such pleasure from the bread? It’s בעבור שמו הגדול – It’s for the sake of Your great name. In order that I should appreciate Your wisdom and greatness and kindliness.”

Now, of course you don’t mean it. But do it anyhow. Do it anyhow. You can begin with just a few seconds. As you’re preparing your food or eating your food, think about the kindness of Hashem. As you chew, enjoy the flavors that Hashem is providing you. In the beginning, you don’t mean it at all. Not at all! But keep it up. Every time you eat, think about the great kindness of Hashem. When you drink that cup of water, you should think that it’s Hashem pouring that great elixir of life down your throat. And after a bit of practice, you’ll actually begin to believe it. You’ll actually feel a gratitude towards Hashem for the food that He provides you. And then you’ll be on your way to fulfilling the great lesson of ואכלתם שם לפני ד׳ אלוקיכם ושמחתם – the great lesson of being happy with the gift of food as you eat before Hashem, and growing in awareness of Hashem and gratitude to Him. And those who develop the genuine attitude of appreciating Hashem’s countless forms of kindness in food, will begin to enjoy themselves and find true happiness in their day-to-day life. And they will thereby gain excellence of mind and character. And that’s how you’ll become greater and greater in the eyes of Hashem, as you’re eating breakfast at your kitchen table.

Have a wonderful Shabbos.