Our food is not just something to eat - it is something to respect. In this week's Torah Portion we learn about the altar on which the Jewish priests would make food holy in the tabernacle (sanctuary). Even though we don't have the sanctuary or the altar today, the table where we eat can be like an altar. When we show our appreciation to God by eating and treating the food that He gives us respectfully, we make the food holy and the act of eating a holy act.

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In our story, a kid gets a powerful lesson about respecting food.


"Hey, catch!" Jon shouted as he frisbee-flung his half-eaten mini-pizza across the long table to his friend, Alan. Well, Alan missed, but the pizza did manage to hit Chuck right on the sleeve of his new, white pullover; which of course led him to retaliate by fork-flinging a gooey piece of chocolate cake Jon's way, thus beginning a full-fledged food-fight.

The battle was just getting going when Mr. Isaacs, the school custodian, walked in, caught sight of it and began moving fast the boys' way. The kids knew that even though the custodian was old he was tough, so they called an immediate cease-fire and quickly retreated toward the safe territory of the schoolyard, leaving a giant-sized mess behind.

As Jon was about to duck out, something made him turn back and take one last peek. He'd expected to see the man either angrily shaking his fist at them, or maybe just quietly starting to clean up, but he saw neither. Instead he saw Mr. Isaacs holding his head between his two hands and crying!

Wow - we must have really gone too far this time, Jon thought. It must be just too big a mess for the older man to handle and he broke down over the thought of all that work. Jon liked to play around, but he didn't like to hurt people. Even though he'd get yelled at, he decided he was going to go back and help the custodian clean up the mess.

He sidled closer to the man, who was still weeping with his eyes closed. "Ahem," he cleared his throat. "I'm, um really sorry about this mess ... I know it's a huge clean-up job and I'm going to help, just ... um ... please don't cry because of the mess, um ... we made."

Mr. Isaacs turned to him and gave Jon a look that felt like it was going right through him. Not angry - just intense and very sad.

"Well," he said. "I see you're a good, honest boy who's not afraid to own up to what he's done. So I'll tell you the truth. I wasn't crying because I have to clean up your mess."

"You're not?" Jon asked, surprised. The man shook his head.

"No, I realize kids will be kids and besides, in my life I've done work so hard, that it would make this seem like a picnic in the park."

"So, then, um, why..."

"Why was I crying? I was crying to see such a terrible disrespect for food. You may not understand this - and maybe it's good that you don't - but when I was a boy your age...," he paused and sighed, "...I was in a terrible place. A place where people had barely enough food to survive ... sometimes not even that."

Jon felt goose bumps as the man, who had begun silently weeping again, went on. "But thanks to the good Lord, I somehow made it out of there, and now, just like you, I have all the food I could ever eat. But...," he looked Jon straight in the eye, "...unlike you, because of what I went through, I realize every bit of food is a precious gift from God - a precious gift of life. So when I saw you boys treating food like a toy, or like worthless garbage, it just sort of made me remember all those old feelings of hunger and fright from way back when, and that's when the tears started to come."

"I'm really sorry, Mr. Isaacs," Jon said with his head low. "I didn't mean to..."

"Of course you didn't," the man said, now with a clear, forgiving smile. "You go out and play now - I'll take care of this. Just promise me that the next time you feel like acting disrespectfully to a piece of food, you'll try to think of the boy who didn't have any - and what a precious gift it is, that you do."

Jon had lots to think about as he walked out of the cafeteria that day, but one thing he knew already - that he had just been part of the last food-fight of his life.


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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jon feel about playing around with food at first?
A. He felt that if it made a fun game, why not?

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt that food was something to be grateful for and treat with respect.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Jon learned from what happened?
A. Though he was a good kid, he didn't think twice about playing with food. But after talking with a man who had learned to appreciate it the hard way, he realized that food is a precious gift that deserved respect.

Q. What are some ways we can show respect for food?
A. Certainly by not having food fights! But also, by trying not to waste it. We should only take what we think we will eat. Also, if there is food on the floor (especially bread) we shouldn't step on it. It should be picked up and respectfully thrown away or placed off to the side where no one else will step on it. It's better to sit calmly and eat, rather than to eat ‘on the run.' It's also a good practice to take a moment before we eat and after, to appreciate the gift of food and thank God for giving it to us.

Spiritual Exercise: At least one time today, stop a moment to appreciate your food before you eat it.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. What do you think it means to make one's eating ‘holy'?
A. Holiness comes when we use the things in the right way for the right purposes. We can make our eating holy by eating in a calm, respectful way, by trying to eat healthy food in the right amount. We should try to remember and appreciate the gift of food, and express that appreciation to God, as well as using the energy our food gives us for worthwhile things. A person who does all this is well on the way to being holy.

Q. Does respect for food mean that a person must always eat everything they're served and never throw out edible food?
A. No. We should only eat when we are hungry. However, we should take care to have a respectful attitude toward food and to try to understand what a precious gift it is.

Spiritual Exercise: At least one time today, stop a moment to appreciate your food before you eat it.


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