Friday, October 15, 2010

So, I was somewhat amused by the fact that I was assigned this particular week, given the fact that I'm not a big bread person (Heather spent 10 days with me in Israel on Birthright this summer, so she can attest to this). Strangely enough, I've actually been doing some thinking lately about how central bread is to the concept of a "meal" in Judaism, and what that means for people who for medical reasons or personal preference don't include bread in their meals. Are they excluded from table rituals such as washing the hands, saying the motzi blessing, and participating in Birkat HaMazon? The solution of gluten-free challah aside, perhaps we can reinterpret the "eat bread" charge for this week.

The traditional blessing upon eating bread blesses God for "bringing forth bread from the Earth". However, we all know that we don't pull plastic packages of Zomicks out of our backyards (I mean, maybe they do in Brooklyn, but not out here in California). Bread is representative of the partnership between God and human beings in creating food and sustenance for the world. In Birkat HaMazon, the Grace after Meals, the first paragraph tells us that God provides food and nourishment for all creatures. But what about world hunger?! I can walk 200 meters outside my apartment in downtown Sacramento right now and find at least five people who have probably gone more than 24 hours without a solid meal. Hypocrisy! How can we thank God for something that doesn't appear to be true?!

Going back to the idea of bread being symbolic of the partnership between God and humans in sustaining the world, perhaps we aren't holding up our end of the bargain. The Earth provides resources for food, but it is up to humans to determine how we make and distribute the food so that we can fulfill the vision put forth in Birkat HaMazon, of a world where all living creatures are nourished.

Back to this "eat bread" thing. Challah, in particular, is filled with intentionality. We separate a piece of dough (called "taking challah" during the preparation process and make a special bracha over the separation. The loaves of challah take center stage on our Shabbat table; they are what elevate just an ordinary meal with friends into a seudat Shabbat. For those who can't/don't eat challah, the same sort of intentionality can be taken and applied to some other part of the meal to separate it from the rest of the week.

So, for this week, choose one or more of the following:
  • Fulfill your end of the bargain by doing something to aid the problem of hunger in our world. Find a homeless person and offer him/her a meal, volunteer in a food bank or soup kitchen, make a donation to a hunger relief agency such as MAZON, or support your Hillel's Challah for Hunger chapter this week, if you have one.
  • Celebrate farmers as God's partners in providing food for the world. Visit a local farmer's market and buy some fresh produce or other delicious goods for your Shabbat table.
  • Before you dig in to your Friday night dinner, take a few moments to think about the journey your food took to get to your table. How far did it travel? (hopefully not too far, unless a bag of Bamba is serving as your appetizer). How many people worked to get you your meal? What kinds of resources were used? What is the cultural/ethnic origin of the food you're eating? Is it a family recipe? Is there some special significance to what you're eating? Anyways, there could be a million questions, but just take an extra second (think of it as an extended bracha moment), to appreciate your food.
Shabbat Shalom!

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