Feeling Hungry — in the Parsha and in Jerusalem

Feeling Hungry in the Parsha

Food should almost never be taken at face value. We eat because we need calories, but also because we’re hungry for stimulation, distraction, pleasure, comfort, familiarity, continuity, nurture, love and more. And when we prepare food for others, we’re typically aiming far beyond mere nutrition and hoping to satisfy some of those other cravings.

This raises some interesting questions about this week’s parsha, Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9). When Esau came home famished from the field, was he really just longing for a bowl of lentils?

Matthias Stom, Esau [right] selling his birthright to Jacob or The Lentil Stew, 17th Century
Or did Esau crave lentils because he felt lonely and depleted by a day spent killing animals? Was he hungry for brotherly love? Was his urgent need to eat stimulated by the absence of maternal affection – his mother loved his brother more? And what does it mean that it was his brother rather than his mother who waited with a steaming pot of soup for the return of the family’s meat provider?

Mindful that his father’s love for him was predicated on the food that he, Esau, prepared, was Esau simply longing to be fed as well as to feed others? And what about Isaac? Why did he so desperately want to eat Esau’s meat before he died? Did the man who allowed his father to tie him to an altar like an animal hope at the end of his life for a dose of animal vitality? Did Isaac yearn to blot out the memory of being prepared by his father to be a burnt offering by eating barbecued meat prepared lovingly by his son?

And in a story in which three of the four characters are food providers, what does it mean that Isaac alone eats food but doesn’t feed?

For more questions and even some answers on this theme, Londoners may still have time to sign up for the first of what promises to be a wonderful series of monthly events around art and Torah, organized by my friend Joseph Hyman.

Others could order my book and read the excellent commentary on Toldot by Professor Jack Sasson.

Feeling Hungry in Jerusalem

Last week was the fourth annual Jerusalem Tolerance Week, timed to coincide with International Tolerance Day. Not surprisingly, many of the events organized by institutions and individuals in partnership with the Jerusalem Inter-Cultural Center (JICC) revolved around food.

Most of the food-related activities involved participating restaurants, but one of them took place in our apartment. Our event was called Kosher Palestinian Home Cooking. We invited Magda, a wonderful cook who also cleans for our friends Naomi and Jonathan, to prepare a range of traditional Palestinian dishes that kosher-keeping Jews could eat. Magda bought all the products at Rami Levy, a supermarket where all the products are kosher, and prepared the food in Naomi and Jonathan’s kosher kitchen in pots that belonged to them or were purchased specially.

Through the JICC’s Tolerance Week advertising, mainly on social media, we invited anyone who, because of dietary restrictions or mere lack of opportunity, could not enjoy Palestinian home cooking, to come to our apartment and make up for lost time. We promised wonderful food, an opportunity to meet the cook and to hear about her life and the role of food within it, and live music!

Ahead of the event, a few people asked me if I was worried that people would simply come to eat free food and leave. I wasn’t worried, and as it turned out, I didn’t need to be. As these photos attest, the 60 plus people who came to our apartment last Thursday night, most of whom we didn’t know and didn’t know each other, certainly had an appetite for Magda’s amazing food, but they were hungry for a lot more.

This post is dedicated to Jack Sasson, whose oldest brother passed away this week. May his memory be for a blessing.

About the Author
Before coming to Israel in 2011, Diana Lipton was a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge (1997-2006), and a Reader in Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at King's College London (2007-2011). Here in Israel, she's lectured on Bible at Hebrew University's Rothberg International School and, currently, in the Bible Department at Tel Aviv University. She's the very proud mother of Jacob and Jonah, and lives in Jerusalem with her husband Chaim. Her latest book, 'From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey: A Commentary on Food in the Torah' (Urim Publications) is available on Amazon; proceeds go to Leket, Israel's national food bank.