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Parshas Vayikra - Smack your Lips and Savor your Meal!!!                6 Nissan 5781

03/18/2021 10:17:56 PM


As a follow up to last week’s message regarding how to emerge from the pandemic, I wish to share an old insight that applies even more today than ever before. Everyone can highlight some of the good and bad things that took place this past year and, for most of us, can even see the silver lining packed within some of the challenges. Two areas of life were greatly impacted during Covid-19 - eating out  and davening/praying with a minyan. At least here in San Diego, our dining experience, albeit challenging even in the best of times, is now returning with limited in-door dining and seating. The same is true with regard to davening as more people get vaccinated.  Hopefully, the ability to “go back to normal” is approaching. Unfortunately, habits were formed, and people grew comfortable with what they now term “the new norm”. I was told by Rabbi Wein that we must go back to the “old norm” in conjunction with the benefits of the past year.  The following is a comparison of the similarities of eating and davening.

When it comes to eating out, people typically tend to choose between fine dining and fast-food joints. A fine dining experience will usually take a few hours to eat food that can typically be eaten in a few minutes. I remember eating in an Israeli restaurant with an all-you-can-eat menu. The experience was gluttonous. We were served seven different types of meats, chicken, and a plethora of side dishes. Diners were invited to taste as many of these delicacies as they wished. There was no time limit; diners were welcome to stay there for six hours, get up, walk around, go the bathroom, shmooze with diners at other tables, burp, and then sit back down to partake in more food. There is a distinct feel or sense of royalty when surrounded with the lavishness of eating in an environment of opulence. Truth be told, it kind of crosses the border on the prohibition of excessive eating (as discussed in the Gemara Pesachim 108a regarding eating of Korban Pesach), a negative commandment in the Torah.

At the conclusion of this amazing, yet luxurious eating experience, I reached the feeling of satiation whereby I might have been obligated to recite the full Birkas Hamazon despite not having eaten any bread. For me, the pleasure and enjoyment of this culinary experience was due to the fact that I could actually enjoy eating delicious food slowly, savoring every taste sensation with a sense of ease and relaxation. Typically, I would indulge myself by eating a good rib steak but would consume it quickly, not taking the time to appreciate the full flavor of the meat attained by eating more slowly. On the other hand, eating quickly, without proper chewing can wreak havoc on the intestinal track. Every dietician, doctor and health professional will tell you that eating slowly helps your digestion, keeps your weight in check, and helps to contribute to a more enjoyable lifestyle. Of course, there are situations when we have no choice, but that should only be the exception not the norm.

There are very few foods other than meat which are connected to an all -you- can- eat menu. I would like to suggest that there is a symbolic connection here regarding the relationship of meat to both a Biblical and a rabbinic view point. This week, as we begin Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, our attention will now focus on the daily activities that existed in the Mishkan, the portable Temple which we just completed building, concluding with its inauguration. Probably the most active part of the Mishkan was the processing of animals for korbanos, ritual sacrifices and offerings. Animals were offered daily for the public and continually throughout the day for personal sacrifices. Sacrifices were offered for a host of reasons not limited to sin or guilt. Sacrifices were also offered for thanksgiving, free will, nazir, childbirth, and more. There was a constant flow of animals being led in, slaughtered, and essentially roasted on the mizbeiach - the altar. Meat was consumed by 'Hashem', the Kohanim, and their families. Some sacrifices were eaten and enjoyed by those who brought the offerings along with their families. The Navi Hoshea in 14:3 states: "Unishalma Parim Sifaseinu", "and let us render for bulls the offering of our lips”. The essence of the sacrifices is to become closer to Hashem, hence the word "Korban" which means to get close, is done through our lips.

When sacrifices were able to be brought, the closeness to Hashem came as a result of the offering itself as well as the eating of the meat. pToday, in these ost-Temple times,we are no longer able to bring offerings or experience the emotional power of connecting to HaShem through eating of the meat, we must be aware of the requirement that we have to use our lips in another way to get close to God This is done through prayer! When it comes to communal or private prayer, a person establishes habits regarding the way he eats, just as he establishes habits regarding the way he davens.  I am suggesting that there is, indeed, a correlation between the speed with which a person eats and the speed of his davening, or vice versa.  In other words, I am saying that there are people who daven quickly or slowly and people who eat quickly or slowly. A person does not process that his body actually adapts to a certain routine - whether it is eating or davening. After a period of time, each of us evolve and change, especially when it comes to the speed of davening. We now  have only one Shacharis minyan in Shul and have adapted a compromise speed between the pace of davening during the early minyan and the second minyan. This is especially true when we find ourselves in an environment which is different from that which we grew accustomed to. Someone who is used to daven quickly will, at times, find himself in a slower minyan. Similarly, a person who typically eats slowly may at times be forced to eat quickly.

We have already established the fact that doing things more slowly vis a vis eating -and probably davening -is healthier. During the busy work week, a person may not have time to eat properly or to daven slowly, for that matter. But I must add, a person does not tend to leave the table early, leaving food on his plate – especially when it is good.  So, too, a person should not leave davening early, leaving some of the prayers unsaid.  

With that said, therefore, when the 'opportunity' to 'slow down' occurs, we should take advantage of that time and enjoy it. This opportunity rolls around every week on Shabbos and on occasion of Yom Tov. Shabbos and Yom Tov meals need not be rushed. We can enjoy the food, ambiance, and atmosphere during each Shabbos and Y.T. meal. In addition, the tefillos on Shabbos and Y.T. should be viewed as an invitation to take in all that prayer has to offer. Just as we can sit down and savor a great meal by eating slowly, taking pleasure in every aspect of the meal, giving it time to digest, so too can we use our mouths to savor the taste and the beauty of the prayers. We have a chance to daven slowly, to think about the words and the meaning of the tefillos in a way which we may not have the chance to do during the week. This requires a change of mindset regarding eating, and, kal vachomer - how much more so - by davening. Stop and think. Digest this thought. Do we want to eat our words by half chewing, or chewing so quickly that we devour them without even tasting them? The korbanos, represented by our food, should be used to get closer to Hashem. Take the time to daven slowly and with greater kavana - concentration and understanding - of the tefillos. Hopefully, by eating more slowly on Shabbos and YomTov, we will train ourselves to eat more slowly during the week. Healthy eating habits contribute to becoming physically healthier. In the same vein we should enjoy and treasure slower davening on Shabbos and Y.T. Hopefully, that, too, will carry over to our davening during the week, even if it is on a Sunday or on a day off from work when we have more time.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782