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Temple Beth El

Offering Conservative Jewish worship since 1935

83 Chestnut Street/POBox 383
Oneonta, NY 13820
Phone: (607) 432-5522

February 2020

Dear Congregation,

A popular slogan of our time is “you are what you eat”. There is far more truth to this than one might think, in fact, our tradition teaches us that what we eat has a tremendous influence not only on our physical well-being but also on our emotional and even spiritual.

This idea is expressed in our scriptures and in the writings of many of our sages. For example Maimonides states that the reason the Torah prohibits the consumption of prey animals is because eating it would enhance the cruel animalistic tendencies of people. One of the rabbinic leaders of 19th century German Jewry, S. R.Hirsch writes that eating the foods that the Torah prohibits would   minimize our sensitivity to the spiritual ideals which the Torah aims to inculcate in mankind and instead enhances the primitive animalistic ones.

The mystics take this idea even further, explaining that everything is sustained by divine sparks (energy) emanating from the creator. When we eat, we not only extract physical energy from our foods but also spiritual energy, which is the food for our souls.  Therefore the lower on the food chain we sustain ourselves, meaning from the produce of the land, the more spiritual energy we can absorb,  as they are closer to the source of all energy, God.

Perhaps this is the ultimate teaching of the festival of Tu B’Shevat (the 15th of Shevat on the Hebrew calendar) which is the Rosh Hashanah for trees, celebrated this year on February 10th, a day when we bless and eat of the fruits, nuts and grains that sustain us through the year. The mystics explain that it is on this day that the sap starts to rise in the trees that eventually will produce the fruits. The word for sap in Hebrew is “saraf” which means fire or burning energy. It is also one of the names for angels — “Seraphim” meaning “burning messengers”. It is an allusion to the spiritual energy emanating from the creator contained in the produce of the land which we consume.

While one should be ever mindful and grateful for the source of our sustenance, Tu B’Shevat is a special day to contemplate and celebrate the sacred bounty of the land which sustains our bodies physically and our souls spiritually.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy and a low oil consumption winter.