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Dining in the Divine Presence: Reading Between the Bites

Written by שי טחן, 6/2/2024


Dining in the Divine Presence: Reading Between the Bites.

Body language- Parashat Mishpatim.

Rabbi Shay Tahan


ואל אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו ויחזו את האלק-ים ויאכלו וישתו (שמות דכ, יא)

רש״י- לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ – מִכְּלָל שֶׁהָיוּ רְאוּיִים לְהִשְׁתַּלֵּחַ בָּהֶם יָד.
וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱלֹק-ים – הָיוּ מִסְתַּכְּלִין בּוֹ בְּלֵב גַּס מִתּוֹךְ אֲכִילָה וּשְׁתִיָּה


The Torah recounts the leaders of israel who were present at the meeting when Hashem appeared to them. Rashi suggests that they were looking at Hashem (so to speak) disrespectfully. One might wonder where Rashi derived this interpretation, as the verse only states: "Yet He did not raise a hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld Hashem, and they ate and drank. And they saw the God of Israel—under whose feet was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity."

The answer lies in their behavior while in the presence of the Holy Shechinah. Observing how a person behaves during a meeting, particularly one that involves a meal can provide valuable insights into their feelings and comfort level.

Discerning someone's comfort during a meal involves observing their relaxed posture and evident enjoyment of the food, as well as their active engagement in conversation. A person at ease typically eats at a natural pace, smiling and expressing contentment. They may show openness to trying new foods, exhibit casual gestures, and share positive feedback about the meal. In contrast, someone feeling intimidated may display tense body language, limited conversation, and avoidance of eye contact. Comfortable individuals often demonstrate unhurried behavior, taking the time to enjoy both the food and the company. They may even share their dish or offer tastes to others, contributing to a sense of generosity and ease, which stands in stark contrast to the behaviors exhibited by someone feeling intimidated.

When meeting someone of high stature, such as a prominent rabbi, it is customary to feel a sense of awe and respect. If invited to a meal, one should either refrain from eating altogether or, if expected to partake, approach the meal with restraint and respect. During such a meeting, it is generally assumed that one wouldn't casually take out a snack bar, munch on potato chips, or engage in any behavior that could be perceived as showing utmost disrespect.

When the leaders of Israel were in the presence of Hashem, it was considered inappropriate for them to eat, as it would show disrespect. Consequently, they faced severe punishment. However, Hashem chose to delay the punishment to avoid dampening the high spirits of the day. This notion of refraining from eating in the presence of the Shechinah is reflected in the halacha governing behavior in a synagogue. Shulchan Aruch (בסי' קנא סעיף א) emphasizes that one should not behave in a lightheaded manner in a synagogue. An example of such behavior is eating and drinking, though there are exceptions mentioned in the halacha and poskim, where eating in a shul is permitted under specific circumstances.




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