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The Holy Act of Eating

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

We Jews just don’t seem to be able to do anything without food, do we?

Torah study: Breakfast.

Shabbat service: Oneg.

Passover Storytelling: Family meal.

It’s not just that we like to eat. (Though that’s also true…) This predilection for eating together is actually built into the fabric of Judaism, and it was a purposeful choice made by the early Rabbis who framed our tradition. Our tradition sees the act of eating – and especially eating together – as a holy act.

In ancient times, Jews found atonement and spirituality at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Through sacrifice and prayer, we connected with God and with one another.   But the Temple has long since been destroyed, and the Talmud  (Menachot 97a) teaches that “now that the Temple is no longer standing, a person’s table provides atonement” instead. In other words, a dinner table is a holy place, even to the point of being a replacement for the holiness of the ancient Temple. In Hebrew this is called Mikdash M’at – the “Small Sanctuary.” It is a recognition that the act of sharing a meal is an act of holiness.

This makes sense. When you are with your family at a holiday meal, do you feel a sense of transcendence? Do you feel like you are part of something larger, or like you are “where you’re supposed to be?” Judaism teaches that when we gather around our tables – like we do on Shabbat and festivals - we are there to connect with loved ones, and we also have the opportunity to connect with God.

(As an aside, I recently had a conversation with a colleague of mine who is an Imam. He confirmed that the Jewish love for food is paralleled in Muslim practice. This is a point of connection with our cousins!)

The holiness of Mikdash M’at applies at every Shabbat and every holiday, but it is at Pesach that most of us are likely to be at family and community meals. At this season of joy, let us strive to recognize that holiness in the act of eating together – that simply by sitting around the Seder tables, we are connected with generations past, with Jews all over the world, and with God, in whatever way we may conceive God.

Is there room at your Mikdash M’at this year? If you have a place or two at your table – or if you are looking for a place to have seder – please let me know and we will connect you.

Chag Sameach – a joyous and festive holiday season to all,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer


Sun, February 5 2023 14 Sh'vat 5783