19 Av 5780 / Sunday, August 09, 2020 | Torah Reading: Eikev
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Shmini: Eating in Holiness    

Shmini: Eating in Holiness

How can this be? How does eating the additional hot dog or donut literally knock a person down the rungs of the spiritual ladder...


"You shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, for I am holy; you shall not contaminate yourselves" (Vayikra 11:44)
The Torah concludes its elaboration of the forbidden foods at the end of this week's portion by commanding us to be holy. The juxtaposition of the two ordinances, "you shall sanctify yourselves" and "you shall not contaminate yourselves" indicates that eating foods that are permitted by Torah is a precondition for holiness.
Holiness in our eating is not only what we eat, but how and how much we eat.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains (Likutei Moharan I:60), that one's intellect is reflected in one's countenance. The more a person possesses true wisdom, the more his or her face is illuminated. When a person's eating is not in holiness, however, he loses the facial illumination, and falls into an intellectual and spiritual slumber. In other words, as Rebbe Nachman states specifically elsewhere (Ibid. 263), when a person overeats, he loses his human aura, intellectual and spiritual acumen, and resembles an animal instead.
How can this be? How does eating the additional hot dog or donut literally knock a person down the rungs of the spiritual ladder from the rank of human to the rank of animal? The following parable will help us understand.
The King sorely needed a court musician to replace the King's former musician who had retired. The King, together with the minister of music, interviewed and auditioned seventy of the kingdom's best musicians. One particular musician outshined the rest; Lear was his name. The King awarded him the prestigious position.
Lear's tenor voice had the sweetness of citrus-grove honey. Not only could he sing in a variety of genres, but he could play the violin as well. His violin could laugh or cry as if it had its own soul. When Lear's voice tired or when he needed a rest from the violin, his music wouldn't stop; he'd pick up a flute and play melodies so divine that the King would literally swoon in delight.
"As long as you play your music with all your heart, I allow you the run of the palace," said the King. "You may eat and drink whatever and whenever you like and enjoy all the palace amenities. I want you to be happy, for your happiness will reflect in the quality of your music. Just don't forget your duties as court musician – they are your first and major priority!"
As time passed, Lear's singing, fiddling, and fluting became more and more perfunctory. He began anticipating mealtime more than he anticipated entertaining the King. Rather than eating and drinking so that he could play energetically for the King, he began eating and drinking for the sake of his ever-expanding waistline. His visits to the royal brewery room became more and more frequent. The more Lear consumed, the greater his appetite became. It wasn't long before his belly ruled his brain.
Once, before a concert, Lear drank too much of the King's rich black ale. He felt so sluggish, that he could barely lift his violin bow. "No problem," he said to himself, "I shall sing to the King!"
The excess of beef and beer took their toll. Just as Lear's voice attempted to ascend an octave, he belched with the forcefulness of a thunderclap. Disgusted, the King not only banished him from the palace, but sent him into a lengthy exile to atone for his misdoing. To this day, the remorseful Lear longs for the day when he'll be able to return to the palace and play his music for the King as before.
God is the King. The Jew resembles a court musician, whose prayer and Torah learning are the music that brings indescribable gratitude to the King. When the Jew eats and drinks to have energy for his royal service, then he becomes a vessel of holiness. But when he eats and drinks for the sake of his bodily pleasures and appetites, he loses his status of holiness and resembles a behema, a beast in the field. Surely, no King is willing to allow an ox roam around in the royal court.
By performing his bodily functions in holiness, the Jew merits a divine aura that shines from his countenance. By doing the opposite, he resembles an animal. May the Almighty help us to partake of this world for the sake of fulfilling His commandments, and allow all of Israel to sing His praise in the rebuilt holy Temple, speedily and in our days, amen.

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