Matos/Masei 5770 – Live to eat or eat to live

“Anything placed on a fire, you must pass it through fire to purify it, but it also must be purified through water. Anything that did not pass through fire, you must pass it through water.”
-Bamidbar 31:23

When a person buys new dishes or utensils to be used for food from a non-Jewish source, there is a requirement to place them in a mikveh before using them (please consult with your Rabbi with any questions regarding which dishes and utensils have this requirement). Although there is no direct mitzvah in the Torah that states this requirement, it is learned out from this week’s parsha. The commentators note something very interesting about this law. It only pertains to items and utensils which are for food. For example, scissors that are used to cut chicken must be placed in the mikveh, but scissors that are used to cut paper or fabric are not required to be put in a mikveh. The reason for this is because eating is one of the most basic functions we do; animals eat basically the same way we do. But we are not animals and we want to make sure we know this. Therefore, we are commanded to try to raise our eating to a higher level – we are to make our eating holy. Part of this process is to place our utensils into a mikveh to give them some extra holiness.

Why do we eat? The story is told that a man once told his Rebbe that they were very much like each other. “For example,” said the man, “we both eat apples the same way.” The Rebbe corrected the man by stating that when the man eats an apple, he first makes a blessing so he can eat the apple. The Rebbe, on the other hand, said that he eats the apple so he can make a blessing.

Although these next two phrases have the same words in them, they are very different from each other. They are two different ways a person can view eating: does a person eat to live or live to eat? During this generation it has become very popular for Jews to go to a kosher resort hotel or on a kosher cruise. I am not going to say these are forbidden, but if a person goes to one of these places, he should remember that although all of the food may be kosher, it does not mean he must try all of it. Our life goal is not to satisfy our tummy.

The first sin ever committed on this world was done with eating – Adam and Chava ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. When we became a Jewish nation on Pesach, the first thing we did was eat from the Paschal offering. One of the reasons for this eating was to atone for the sin of Adam and Chava. Another reason was to teach us that we can raise our eating to a holier state, which is our ultimate goal when we eat.

It seems every Jewish function has refreshments served. The reason for this is not so we can “pig-out” because then we act like the lower life forms. Our goal is to raise ourselves to a more holy level and these refreshments are a way we can get there. Whenever we eat, we can take a simple, animalistic act, and make it a holy act. This is something we can learn from this week’s parsha.

Good Shabbos!
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