To mark the retirement of Rabbi Sybil, a special service and kiddush was held at Wimbledon and District Synagogue.
One of the many highlights of the service was Rabbi Sybil’s commentary on the weekly portion on the theme of “spirituality and food”, and she has kindly allowed us to reproduce it below. It expresses so eloquently the dual importance of feeding the stomach and the soul. She has been a great supporter of wimshul cooks as well as a regular contributor – some of our best and most original articles – and we hope she will continue to submit her ideas and articles and spiritual nourishment.
Spirituality and food
Commentary on the Torah Portion Beshallach
By Rabbi Sybil Sheridan
In our Torah portion the Children of Israel were led by God towards the Red Sea. They saw the Egyptians going after them and panicked. Moses stretched out his hand, the waters parted and the children crossed safely.
But no sooner are they through, than they saw the Egyptians in hot pursuit. Moses stretched out his hand once more and the waters closed. On seeing the Egyptians drowned and washed up upon the shore, the people ‘Feared God, and believed in God and in Moses.’ (Exodus 14:31)
But just three days later and they are complaining: they have no water. What happened to their faith? What they saw at the sea was an event we still talk about. The one defining moment that transformed us – yet all they can think of, is how thirsty they are.
The portion continues: they complain they have no food, so God provides manna and quails. (Exodus 16) By the end of our portion, they are thirsty again – and then they are attacked by Amalek. (Exodus 17)
How is it, that so quickly, their physical needs turned the spiritual experience into history? ‘Im ein kemach ein Torah’ said Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (Pirkei Avot 3:17). If there is no flour, there is no Torah. No one can be sustained by visions alone. The Israelites could have continued singing and dancing and would have died in the desert in an ecstasy of faith, but what use would that have been? They needed to survive. Yet, to quote another Jewish boy, ‘Man cannot live by bread alone.’ (Gospel of Matthew 4:4) To live only for food and drink is to miss the point, we are so much more than our physical needs.
God instructs the people to gather a double portion of manna every Friday to sustain them over Shabbat. You cannot enjoy Shabbat without food.
The term Oneg Shabbat – which we interpret today to mean singing and dancing, strumming a guitar and sitting in a circle – is based on Isaiah 58:13 ‘You shall call the Sabbath a delight.’ For the mediaeval Rabbis, the meaning was very different. They said, ‘Delight’ means enjoying three good meals on Shabbat – luxury few could afford the rest of the week.
The double portion of manna gave rise to our tradition of having two loaves of challah on Shabbat.
But Rabbi Yehudah Arie Leib Alter, (1847-1905) the Chasidic Rabbi known as the S’fat Emet, suggests that the two loaves represent the two things needed to sustain us, bread from the earth, and bread of heaven.
Without the one we die. Without the other, we are barely alive. So he would recite two blessing over the challah hamotsei lechem min ha’aretz over one, and hamotsi lechem min hashamayim over the other.
So when we go to synagogue and enjoy the Torah reading, and get into the spirit of the prayers, we are doing what God has commanded us. Then, when the service is concluded, and we enjoy the Kiddush, remember, that too is commanded by God.
Rabbi Sybil’s other wimshul cooks’ posts:
and her blog