Spiritual Growth - Jewish

By Judith Levitan

  • The Jewish calendar is permeated by a number of fasts and feasts – each which provide opportunities for spiritual growth.
  • One of the key times of feasting occurs during the festival of Passover.
  • Passover is a festival that celebrates freedom.  It commemorates the biblical story of the liberation and exodus of the Jewish people from    slavery in Egypt.
  •  The story is told, literally, over dinner.  There is an order to the way in which the story is told that involves various rituals.  This orderly meal is called a ‘seder’.
  • The opening act of the ‘feast’ of Passover is to lift up a piece of matzah (unleavened bread traditionally eaten at Passover) and invite those who are less fortunate than us to join our meal.
  • The quote fro the ‘seder’  text is: “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate inEgypt,  All who are hungry let the come and      eat.”
  • By recognizing those who do not have food to eat, and inviting them to join our meal, the feast of Passover connects issues of social justice to the time of feasting.
  • We also create connection and community by sharing a meal, our common story and the common experience of the ‘seder’.
  • The biblical origin of this      ‘orderly meal’ conveys the same messages of community and connection.  The bible talks about each family      sharing a meal of the ‘pascal lamb’ not only within the family unit but with other families who could not afford to eat, or those people who did not have family.
  • The feast of Passover therefore creates opportunities to strengthen community ties.
  • The act of fasting also creates      opportunities for spiritual growth.
  • The most holy day of the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.  It follows 10 days of spiritual reflection (and consequently social action) from the start of the Jewish  New Year.  This is a period of time to reflect, take stock of your actions of the past year, repair relationships and give charity. This period of 10 days culminates on the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur.
  • Yom Kippur is a day of prayer, reflection and meditation. Spirituality is attained by abstaining from the physical pleasures, such as eating.
  • Our tradition says that we become like angels on this day – our physical needs are not the focus.  We achieve a level of spirituality by departing from the physical elements of our existence, which at the most basic level is food.
  • However, this level of spirituality is not sustainable – we must eat to survive.  The day of atonement is followed by another period of feasting: The feast of the Tabernacles.
  • The feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Passover are agricultural festivals linked to thelandofIsrael.  The Feast of Tabernacles occurs in Israel at the time of the harvest.  This is traditionally at time of plenty and bounty.
  • It is apt that it is at this time of the year that we construct temporary dwelling structures (booths) in which we are supposed to eat and sleep. By doing this we recognise that the food and bounty with which we have received are not ours, but rather a gift from G-d to be shared.
  • Jewish agricultural laws are founded on this concept.  When harvesting the fields, Jewish farmers are commanded to leave the corners      of the fields for the poor to come and harvest for themselves.  Once again the principles of equity and social justice come into play. Food that comes out of the earth is a gift to be shared.
  • Fasting and feasting throughout the Jewish year create opportunities for spiritual growth and social action.  Fasting and feasting remind    us that food is a gift that connects individuals families and communities to eachother.

August 2009