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Holy Doughnuts
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

The purpose of a Jew's existence is to make this world a fit dwelling place for G-d, to make the physical a receptacle for the Divine. And this finds its ultimate expression when even one's mundane actions, not just Torah and mitzvos, are dedicated to G-d. -  From Days of Destiny, adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Ahh... Chanukah. The festival of light, the miracle of oil. Dreidels, Chanukah gelt, jelly doughnuts and latkes (alias potato pancakes). Is it the memories that warm your heart, or is it the heartburn that you remember? As they say, the miracle was that they ate one latke and it burned for eight days. Ouch.
Corny jokes aside (mainly), there is more than a kernel of truth to the old kibbitz that all Jewish holidays have the same theme, and that is: They tried to kill us, G-d saved us, let's eat!
But while the redemptions marked by Purim and Pesach also share that theme, Chanukah is a little different. The Egyptians and the Persians waged war on us physically, but the Greeks wanted to destroy our soul. They fought against our faith and hence it is our spiritual liberation that we mainly celebrate.
This begs the question - if it's all about the spirit, why do we make a big deal about the food?
The truth is, every culture marks special occasions with food. Reasons for this range from social to psychological, and from ethnic to organic. I would like to focus on another suggestion for why there's digestion - it's part kabbalistic and part moshiachistic, as follows:[1]
Our sages compare the process of redemption to birth, and the prior stage of exile to pregnancy. Within the womb, the fetus is curled up with the head near the heart and the knees brought up around the head.
Similarly, a person in exile is in a topsy turvy position. Not only is life in utero upside down, but over there the head has no control over the heart, nor does the heart rule the lower faculties. Thought, speech and deed are jumbled. So too in exile, our thoughts are no more meaningful than our speech, our speech no better than our deeds.
Actually the opposite is the case. Just as the knees surround the head in the fetus, so too in exile, actions speak louder than words, and speech dominates thought. I am sure we all know what it means to act without feeling, to feel without thinking. That's life in exile, and it's not very liberating.
But there is a way out. We can eat our way to redemption, literally. Here is how it works,
Unlike pre-borns who "eat" through their navels, we eat through our mouths. When the food hits the palate, we experience the flavor, in Hebrew, taam. Taam also means reason and the pleasure we get from physical taste derives from the pleasure within chochmah, wisdom, the highest faculty of the soul.
To release the flavor we have to break up the food with our 32 teeth, which derive from the 32 paths of wisdom described in Sefer Yetsira, the original book of Kabbalah attributed to Abraham, nearly 4000 years ago. When we chew l'shem shomayim, for the sake of heaven, the flavor released ascends to brain, the mind, and the soul, right up to its root in taanug d'chochma, the delight within this higher wisdom.
This is really a process of redemption because there is a spark of divinity within that flavor and it fell into this world through a process called shviras hakeilim, the shattering of the vessels, which took place before the beginning of time. That spark has been waiting for you since then, waiting for you to decide if you will redeem it by eating for the sake of heaven or eat it, rather, for the sake of "yum that's tasty, can I have more," in which case it falls into continued exile in the depths of your gut.
The failure to focus on divine purpose during eating forces bondage on the flavor-spark and on the consumer as well. Myopically tied to a materialistic perspective, the mindless eater stays spiritually curled in a fetal heels-over-head bundle, unable to liberate oneself and the environment through something so simple as ... mindful eating, chassidic style.
Even without divine purpose, mindful eating has many benefits - it remediates stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and heart disease.[2] But once you infuse your eating experience with an awareness of the One who created it, you do much more than celebrate the experience of eating, you actually sanctify the food and the flavor and the fun you have eating it, redeeming the moment, redeeming yourself, and tipping the scales toward a more conscious world - a world redeemed by our mindful interactions.
Who would have imagined that bringing Moshiach could be so simple? Just find a jelly doughnut, make a blessing, take a bite, and think "Ahh... Chanukah. This one is for you Hashem."
Maybe that's why the doughnuts have jelly instead of holes. It's to tell us that approached the right way, holiness has substance and can truly be sweet.
[1] Based on Toras Menachem, Vol. 38, Book 1, p.341-2.
[2] The Center for Mindful Eating

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit or call 416-858-9868



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