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  • Writer's picturePortal al Judaísmo


“You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field year by year. And you shall eat before Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose to rest His Name that you will learn to fear Hashem your G-d all the days.” (Devarim 14: 22- 23)

This parasha deals with the act of eating, in itself one of the predominant and vital activities of Man. After detailing which animals we may consume and which are forbidden, the Torah now launches into the theme of eating “before G-d.’ This refers to the obligation of consuming the produce that is separated from the crop in front of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Second Tithe (maaser sheni). Why should the Torah dedicate so much attention to the simple act of eating that we require to live? Through a deep understanding of these laws we will gain an insight into one of Judaism’s highest concepts: the organic unity of Man.

The consumption of this holy portion of his produce within the boundaries of Jerusalem, in view of the Holy Temple is meant to connect the physical aspect of eating and benefitting from the material world with the higher spiritual mission of Israel. This law follows the lengthy section of the dietary laws which instructs us what animals are “pure”, i.e. permitted for Jews to eat, and which are not. The dietary laws are meant to remind Man as he is about to engage in one of the most animalistic acts, eating, that he needs to take into account the holy and spiritual nature of human beings. The food to be ingested needs to be selected and prepared on conditions that will not imperil our spiritual and moral integrity. These requirements remind Man that he is a spiritual, not merely an animal, being. Thus, the sensuous enjoyment of physical food is “raised to a holy, G-d serving act.” (Hirsch).

The eating of the Maaser sheni (second tithe) in Jerusalem becomes a teaching tool to remind us to have the “fear of G-d” whenever we engage in any activity that could plunge us down into the animal stage. This is part of the entire philosophy of Judaism that grasps the whole of Man as an organic unit, incorporating the spiritual into the physical universes. Man should not regard enjoyment of food as his aim and goal of life, only to satisfy his physical needs and appetite. He should not allow his physical nature to drag him down to animal-like enjoyment. On the contrary, every physical and material pleasure should be connected intimately with his ultimate purpose of serving G-d and ennobling his character.

This integration of the physical and spiritual parts of Man is a constant feature in the Torah. The entire legal system to which Man is bound, and especially the Jewish people, is meant to convey the unity of both systems. Although Man shares with the animal world the vegetative and animal spheres, Man is endowed with a third system which gives him the special position as a Man. The “breath of G-d” which the Creator instilled in Man, renders him apart from the sheer animalistic tendencies and instincts. He acquires a discerning spirit, an ability to curb his impulses and the power to exercise his will with a constructive purpose. Just as Man walks erect, in contrast to the horizontal position of animals, so in Man his animal tendencies must submit to the higher calling of the spirit. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant described it, “Man is partly an animal but his head rises heavenward.” Man’s higher nature should rule the vegetative and animal aspects and to direct his energies to the Creator.

This organic unity of Man represents the organic unity in the Universe, where the spiritual and the physical are wholly integrated. Everything that has a physical appearance has its roots in a spiritual source. Inattention to the spiritual may have negative ramifications in the realm of the body. This is also true the other way around. Many ailments and hardships in the physical realm may be cured and repaired by spiritual acts such as prayer, tzedaka or the fulfillment of mitzvoth. The usual dichotomy found in Western civilization between the holy and the secular, the body and the spirit has its roots in pagan philosophies and it is the antithesis of the Jewish perspective. For the Torah everything is connected, the spiritual and the physical, in every aspect of life.

Not only in the act of eating, but in every aspect of life has the Torah connected the two realms. The Brit Milah (circumcision) is a prime example of the addition of a spiritual component to one of the most powerful symbols of the material, animal-like aspect of Man. At the marriage ceremony we recite a special blessing, “that He created everything for His Glory.” Even the most basic act of copulation of the species, which runs through the whole of Nature, has in Man the opportunity to serve G-d and His Glory. The offering of Bikkurim, the first fruits, also represents this concept of connecting the enjoyment and riches with the Source of Man’s bounty, namely the Creator. Finally, the section on the tithes becomes the source of our relationship to our material wealth. We have obligations with our money. Our goal is not only to amass wealth and possessions, but to relate our success to the obligation to give tzedakah. The duty to give “maaser” (a tenth of our income) rather than just an arbitrary number is meant to make us see the amount we receive (the animal realm) with the part we give (the moral, spiritual realm). When we figure out what amount we have to give in relationship to what we have profited, we become aware of the intimate connection of the two spheres.

This concept of the organic unity of Man runs through the entire body of halakhah and Jewish custom. We are always reminded that the physical should be subordinated to the spiritual and that our physical pleasures should be enjoyed as part of our need to remain healthy and strong to serve G-d and not as separate, disconnected parts. Just as illness infects a body that does not work harmoniously, so our lives become weakened when we separate the realms of the material and the spiritual. The French saying, “Il faut manger pour vivre et pas vivre pour manger.” (One needs to eat in order to live and not live in order to eat) encapsulates well this notion. When we perceive this unity in us, we will learn to fear G-d or, in other words, to subordinate the physical to the spiritual in us.

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