Genesis re-enacted: blessings over food and recycling

Sat, Nov 18th 2017 08:00 am
Pondering with God's Word Columnist

Rabbinic Jewish writings present their understanding of God and of our lives. Read what they write on the purpose of pronouncing a blessing/thanksgiving over food. Their insight occurs in a discussion of an apparent conflict between two Scripture verses.

Our food belongs to God: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Ps. 24:1). And yet, God "has given the earth to human beings" (Ps. 115:16). There is no contradiction between the verses. The first verse reflects the situation before we say a blessing, while the second is after the blessing has been said (Tosefeta).
Since they taught that there were two distinct realms, the sacred and the secular, the question asks how could we humans eat food when the things of the earth belong to God and are in the sacred realm? How can we of the secular realm touch sacred things?

The rabbis provided the answer, stating that we must offer thanks to God and bless our food. These actions remind God that in the past, God had given us the things of the earth to use. Gen. 1:29-30 depicts God, at the time of creation, giving the plants to humans for food, while Gen. 9:3 has God also giving Noah animals for food. When reminded of these events, God again, here and now, gives the food over to us and we are free to eat it. In the rabbis' view, eating without a thanksgiving/blessing is eating the sacred property of God. As one rabbi taught, it is "stealing from God."

This rabbinic teaching reveals a profound understanding of the power of ritual prayer and actions. We Christians believe that our liturgical rituals re-enact sacred mysteries in the here and now. This is the basis of our sacramental system. Isn't this also what the rabbis are saying? Thanksgiving blessings over food re-enact in our present mealtimes, the "giving" act of our Creator-God, giving each of us the fruits of the earth. Thus, table blessings are sacramentals; they offer us the opportunity to "touch," to receive, the creative presence of our generous God in our own meal times.

A further thought comes from Ps. 24:1, "The earth is the Lord's (Yahweh's) and the fullness thereof." For the ancient Israelites, this proclamation has an anti-idolatry aspect. In the Canaanite culture surrounding them, Baal was worshiped as the god who brought rain and thus fertility to the land, its crops, and animals. The Bible's prophetic texts speak of Israelites "hedging their bets," so to speak, offering sacrifices for rain to both Yahweh and Baal. Ps. 24:1 acknowledges that our God, Yahweh, created and rules the earth, not Baal.

The first creation story in Genesis gives humankind dominion over creation (1:26). The second creation story relates what such dominion means: God put Adam in the garden with the command to till it and keep it (2:15). "Tilling" points to agriculture while "keeping" points to caring and preserving the earth.

If meal blessings make present God's gifts of food and drink, can caring for the earth, preserving it, make present to us, "ringing in our ears," so to speak, God's command  to Adam, and all of us to "keep the garden"? Does not each action of protecting the earth represent, in the here and now, our own response to God's command as if we are hearing it in the garden? Such an ordinary, simple action as recycling can be an acknowledgement that "the earth is Yahweh's" and not some gods our culture honors. Mindful recycling also can be a sacramental.  

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