What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Jewish holidays and traditions? Many people answer: Food! For Shabbos we have fish, soup, kugel, kishke, cholent – you name it. We eat potato latkes on Chanukah, blintzes on Shavuot, apple dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah, matzah and different family recipes on Passover… Even on Yom Kippur we are obsessed with food which we don’t eat (and the day before we eat double!). Not to mention all the drinks and l’chaim’s we consume during Shabbos and holidays. And coming from our national holiday, some Jews surely have special Thanksgiving treats.
But what is so Divine and spiritual about food and drink?! Is there anything more to our holidays than material consumption?! And if there is, why does food stand out from all other elements? Can we expect our children to be inspired by nothing more than lavish holiday feasts?!
In this week’s Torah portion we read one of the most controversial stories of the Torah: How the honest scholar Jacob “steals” his brother’s blessings through masquerade and deception… Jacob dresses up in Esau’s garments and fools his father to give him the blessings that actually belonged to Esau! How could the Patriarch of the Jews have done such a thing and still emerge as a hero?!
A powerful metaphor from the Baal Shem Tov explains both these questions: The Jewish obsession with food, and Jacob’s ploy – which reflects how the soul must engage in subterfuge to gain the cooperation of the physical body, a subterfuge that sometimes requires a masquerade, even apparent lies and deceit.