Tsav: Eat together

March 17, 2022 by Jeremy Rosen
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There are four obligations on Purim. To read the Megillah of Esther, to give charity to the poor and gifts to our friends, and to have a celebratory meal, a seudah.

The significance of all these is that in reacting to an attempt to de-humanize, we go in the other direction to emphasize humanity, and the things that reinforce human interaction, and concern. To look to the past to learn from it, and to look forward to the future with hope.

The Purim story is an example of humanity at its worst and its best. Survival against the odds. That is why although Pur means a single lottery, Purim means many. Because life is constantly a matter of weighing up the odds.  And the Purim story encourages us to be proactive and not give up.

What’s so significant about having a banquet? Eating together has always been a symbol of friendship, hospitality, loyalty, and family. Breaking bread is an ancient tradition going back long before the Torah. And we celebrate each Shabbat, each festival with a Seudah (or two or three). This is something that in the world at large is getting rarer and rarer and indeed family life itself has been seriously degraded. The family coming together on Shabbat, Sunday, or Friday was once universally accepted. Nowadays the idea of family is almost going out of fashion. It is associated, with pressure, control, and humiliation. In American society, Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be the only times most families do get together. Even in many Jewish families the idea of eating together once a day during the week, usually the evening meal, with grace before and or after, has become all too rare as other demands take priority.

This week, again, we read in the Torah about the sacrificial system. The very name, sacrifice, implies an unnecessary act of killing animals for ceremonial purposes. Although the subject of sacrifices nowadays has lost its allure, there are still important moral and social lessons we can learn from the Bible text on the subject. In Hebrew, the word for a sacrifice is Korban, the same word Karov also means to be close to God and other people. Whereas some sacrifices were indeed ceremonial, others were designed as atonements for individuals, for religious and political leaders, who all need to examine their actions and intentions regularly. Everyone inevitably makes mistakes.  We need constant, honest reality checks.

Amongst the sacrifices we read about, there are two categories, Shelamim, literally to make peace, shalom in society, and the Mincha, rest or ease, designed to make us all feel comfortable as well as being part of a community. These sacrifices were shared. The bounty and good fortune were shared around. Sacrifices were ways of ensuring that the members of the community were fed as well reinforcing their religious identity.

The Mincha was also primarily vegetarian. So that people who could not afford meat or simply preferred other food could also be part of the system. Speaking personally, in the improbable possibility of the Temple ever being rebuilt, I pray and hope that any sacrifices brought then, will all be Shelamin and better still Mincha vegan to boot.

And given that on matters of food and aroma people have different tastes, this also reinforces the idea that in providing food to get together or to celebrate, we should try to please the palates of our guests, not just ourselves.

Leviticus 6:1 to 8:37

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