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The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth. -Frances Moore Lappe
The end of this week’s Torah reading describes Joseph’s economic efforts, how he singlehandedly saved the Egyptian people from starvation, redistributed the land and imposed a tax rate of 20% on the Egyptian farmers.
The Berdichever explores the unusual phraseology “You will give a fifth to Pharaoh and four hands will go to you to eat and for your household.” (which means Pharaoh gets twenty percent of your produce, you get to keep the remaining 80%). Expounding on the verse and the “four hands,” the Berdichver explains that God established four different levels of creation in our world:
  1. “Inanimate”: earth, water, stones, minerals (“Domem” in Hebrew);
  2. “Grows”: vegetables, plants, trees (“Tzomeach” in Hebrew);
  3. “Alive”: animals (“Chai” in Hebrew);
  4. “Speaks”: man (“Medaber” in Hebrew).
He quotes from Kabalistic sources that detail God’s plan and desire for each element to be elevated and raised to the next level:
  1. When earth, water, minerals and other nutrients are converted from their base state into some type of vegetation, they are somehow elevated to a higher spiritual level. They have moved from the lowly “Domem/Inanimate” state to the slightly more elevated “Tzomeach/Grows” state.
  2. When plants, in turn, are consumed by animals, they are now elevated from the “Tzomeach/Grows” state to the even higher “Chai/Alive” state.
  3. Finally, when man consumes the flesh of an animal, be it fish, poultry or beef, that person is elevating those molecules from the “Chai/Alive” state to the highest terrestrial level of “Medaber/Speaks.”
Man’s God-given ability to somehow convert the matter around him, be it mineral, vegetable or animal into a part of his very self, is nothing less than a form of creation. It relates to a Talmudic discussion as to the phraseology of the blessings we recite when we eat. We bless God, who “creates” these products. We say “creates” in the present tense, as opposed to “created” in the past tense, because it is a current, ongoing, creative act by God.
The quarks, atoms and molecules that make up our reality are constantly given life and existence by God. It is that divine aspect that also allows us to absorb these elements into our being and in some fashion that we have trouble comprehending, elevate the spiritual sparks of these items by consuming them.
May all our consumptions be for divine purposes and may we succeed in elevating them and ourselves higher.
Shabbat Shalom
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Ben-Tzion Spitz is a former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and current candidate for Knesset with the Zehut party. He is the author of ten books on biblical themes and over 700 articles and stories dealing with biblical and rabbinic themes at his blog ben-tzion.com. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.