Food For Thought: Emor 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have any “sacred” recipes in your home or family? Are they kept secret from people outside your sphere of influence, or do you share them freely?

It’s curious that, in the laws defining proper priestly conduct, a special “Godly food” is introduced:

The Pitch: “For [the priests] are holy to their God and you must treat them as holy, since they offer the food of your God; they shall be holy to you, for I, יהוה who sanctify you, am holy.” – Leviticus 21:8

Swing #1: “Although the priest depends for his living on the ‘Priestly Gifts’ which you give him, you are not permitted to treat him with disrespect or contempt. Instead, you are required to sanctify him, because ‘he offers the bread of your God.’ The meal of a righteous man or of a scholar has the same hallowed character as a sacrifice. Accordingly, the gifts which you give to the priest are equal in value to the offerings which serve to atone for your sins. Moreover, the priest in his turn hallows the people of Israel with his study and worship. For all these reasons, the priest ‘shall be holy to you, for I, יהוה, who sanctify you, am holy.’ I, יהוה, have sanctified you through the priest who hallows you with his study and worship. Hence you must honor and hallow him even though he is dependent on your gifts for his living.” – Ketav Sofer

Swing #2: “There is some curiosity regarding the designation of offerings … as ‘the food of their God’. There are indications that Israel’s neighbors thought of sacrifices as food for gods, but the Old Testament writers consistently reject this notion for sacrifices offered to יהוה. Perhaps the cult of the dead involved food offerings to one’s ancestors, and these laws make it clear that Israelite offerings should go to יהוה  alone.” – Timothy M. Willis, Leviticus

Swing #3: “All that is contained in the ‘order of sacrificial service,’ its proceedings, offerings, burning of incense, singing, eating, drinking, is to be done in the utmost purity and holiness. It is called … ‘the bread of your God’, and similar terms which relate to his pleasure in the beautiful harmony prevailing among the people and priesthood. He, so to say, accepts their hospitality and dwells among them in order to show them honor. He, however, is most Holy, and far too exalted to find pleasure in their meat and drink. It is for their own benefit … the nobler ingredients of the food go to strengthen the heart; the best of all, the spirit.” – Yehudah HaLevi, Kuzari

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand “the bread of God”? How do these opinions contrast with passages in Leviticus that describe God enjoying the aroma of certain sacrifices? Is it all right to think of God as enjoying the sense of smell but not the sense of taste? How can we ensure that eating is a “holy act”?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited to welcome my friend Rabbi Jeni S. Friedman, PhD, as this year’s Klein Weekend scholar. Please join us and support the program, taking place May 5th-7th, as we explore Global Jewish Peoplehood.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of holy food, the owner of the 19th-century St. Louis Browns, Chris von der Ahe, is widely credited with inventing the hot dog. He sought an easier way to sell sandwiches at the ballpark, and – whether you regard the hot dog as a sandwich or not – the concoction has remained closely associated with baseball ever since.

Shabbat Shalom!