We should look for someone with whom to eat and drink before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone and is leading the life of a lion or wolf (Epicurus).”
I’m not so sure that finding someone with whom to share a feast is necessarily going to protect a person from living the life of a wild beast. Bohumil Hrabal in “I Served The King of England,” describes a feast of wild antelope and roasted camel, the animals stolen from the local zoo, to honor Emperor Haley Selassie in 1939 Prague. As far as Hrabal was concerned, this was a meal of a wild beast.
I guess we can’t criticize anyone for their diet, as many would be disgusted by Cholent or steak. Of course, we would all agree that the dish of Powdered Wife described by John Smith (The Generall Historie of Virginia,) certainly qualifies as the meal of the beast.
How would we judge the enormous feasts consumed by the Rebellious Child? Does it qualify as something very strange, such as the meal prepared for Haley Selassie, or is it more like the meal of Powdered Wife? Perhaps, his eating habits are of concern because of Epicurus’s dictum against eating alone; his eating habits reflect a person who stands alone against the rest of the world.
Nachmanides explains that part of his sin is, “because he is a glutton, and a drunkard, transgressing that which we have been commanded, “You shall be holy (Leviticus 19:2),” and “He shall you serve, and to Him shall you cleave (Deuteronomy 13:5),” and we are commanded to know God in all our ways, and a glutton and a drunkard does not know the way of God.
It certainly doesn’t seem that Nachmanides sees this young man as a wild beast consuming a feast of antelope and camel, and certainly not a dish of Powdered Wife, but that he is someone who is he eating habits display that he is a person who does not know the way of God. I am confident that my eating habits do not reflect the strange dishes served to the Emperor of Ethiopia or the Powdered Wife consumed by a starving man in 1609 Jamestown, but I wonder whether my eating habits reflect someone who knows the way of God.
This is not about the ritual washing of hands before a meal, nor about the blessings before and after the meal, and it is not about our conversations while eating, but a description of the way we eat. Does our Netilat Yada’im lead us to be careful in the way we eat? Does our mention of God as King in our blessings before the meal remind us to eat as royalty, reflecting the way of God? It isn’t even about how we hold a knife and fork, because for ages people ate with their hands.
This is a lesson in eating with a sense of sanctity, and using eating as a way to attach to our Infinite Creator. I can’t do it when eating a candy bar, I have enough difficulty when eating a Shabbat meal.
I found that applying Epicurus’ rule led me to always imagine myself as setting in the eating at God’s table; I’m not alone. I’m aware that I am eating in the presence of Someone else. “When you sit down to dine with a ruler, know well what lies before you, put a knife to your throat if you are master of your soul. Do not lust for his delicacies, for it is deceitful bread (Proverbs 23:1–3).” King Solomon is teaching us that when we learn how to live life as one who is eating at the Kings table, we will learn how to master our desires in life. To ignore God’s presence even while we’re eating, is to act as did the mythical Rebellious Child.
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