The Spiritual Food Cycle
By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
As we find ourselves between Purim and Pesach, foods of different types take on extra meaning and deserve some attention to ensure that we eat with the right thoughts in mind.
The Alter Rebbe, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, in his classic Chassidic treatise Likutei Torah, makes a statement you would not expect of a Chassidic Rebbe from the late 1700s.
In a revolutionary statement, he proposes that a human being should not eat for his own sake, but rather for the sake of the food that he eats.
He backs up this claim with another interesting point you would not expect from a Rebbe of his era. He opines that since humans are the crown of creation, it would make sense that we should have the benefit of all the forms of life that are seemingly lower than us. However, this doesn’t seem to work when we look at a basic tenet of all plant life.
Every form of vegetation in the world has the ability to perform photosynthesis. If mankind is so much more advanced, why don’t we have the ability to photosynthesize as well?
Think of how much easier our lives would be. No need to eat as much, no need to work as hard to make the money necessary to buy the food.
Think of all the maladies we get from eating and the problems we acquire. Think of all the hunger deaths that could be avoided, as well as the extra time we would have if not for this bothersome habit of eating.
Sure, we would miss the social aspect and lots of people would be out of a job, but I’m sure we could find a solution for both of these outcomes if we no longer needed to eat.
Nevertheless, we have to do what all animals do, and we don’t have the luxury that all plant life has to develop our own solar panels. He proposes that there must be some deeper reason for this major development in our makeup.
Sure enough, the Alter Rebbe opens our mind up to a totally new concept of how we see ourselves, and the role of all humans, in the world in which we live. The Rebbe teaches us that there is a spiritual food cycle that exists, wherein we play a crucial role.
All of G-d’s creation is meant to be elevated to reach beyond its natural limitations. Every cell, every mineral, and every plant has a particular makeup but is not limited to that design. Inanimate dirt contains within it minerals that are absorbed by the plant kingdom to give it sustenance and nurture its growth.
The plant, although limited in movement and without any consciousness, is elevated by the animal when it is consumed and becomes part and parcel of the makeup of the functioning animal. In turn, the animal, when consumed by a human being in such a way that the energy and calories from the animal are used for a purpose higher than what the animal on its own could accomplish, is elevated as well.
The cycle does not end there. When the human uses the energy from the food eaten, by extension it is also elevating the inanimate and plant life that was eaten by the animal as well.
In particular, when a human being uses the energy from the food to perform good deeds, support a family, pray to G-d, learn Torah, and perform mitzvot, then the spiritual food cycle is completed and all of the elements, people, and time which brought the human to this point are elevated retroactively.
In other words, mankind is meant to eat to be the active agent in bringing purpose and refinement into the world. We have a responsibility to the food we eat to ensure that it is being treated in such a way that it can be elevated.
We need to eat meat only when we can focus on accomplishing this goal. Any behavior short of giving the food the opportunity to be elevated is not only shortchanging the purpose for the food’s existence but is also shortchanging our own spiritual potential.
It’s a rather novel approach, and one that sheds a new perspective on eating and drinking. So thank you, Hashem, for creating the plants with photosynthesis, and to the Alter Rebbe for providing us with this valuable lesson. If we would start eating with these simple teachings from over 200 years ago, our lives — and our waistlines — will most likely benefit significantly.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.