In 2015, Rabbi David Seidenberg published a work germinating for ten years or more — Kabbalah and Ecology, an eco-theology deeply rooted in ideas developed within Judaism’s esoteric tradition. The entire work is available for purchase from Cambridge University Press. (An introduction to the book can be read here.)
We have presented here a teaching that Rabbi Seidenberg shared over the neoḥasid announcement listserve, “Chasidus w/o Borders” in 2013 just prior to the book entering its final phase of editing. Additionally, I have included with his teaching the sourcetexts he referenced from the Talmud Bavli, tractate Brakhot, and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero’s Palm Tree of Devorah. –Aharon N. Varady, ed.
If me’ilah means that you can’t use property that’s sanctified, that’s because sanctified property must be used for a sacred purpose and it must be used by the priests. So if saying a brakhah changes the status of something so that you can now eat it, what status is the brakhah changing? Is it turning the food into something that’s no longer sacred and can therefore be used by an ordinary person (a הֶדיוֹט “hedyot“)? OR, is it turning the person from a hedyot into a priest?
I think it means that by saying a blessing before we eat–or before we take in any pleasure that has a brakhah–we become like priests administering to Creation, which means we take on an awesome responsibility: that we should act not just for our own sake but for the sake of all people and all beings. That’s the role of the priest in the Temple.
May we be blessed that we all merit to really see the world through such eyes, and that our every act of eating, of taking, from this world, be an act of sanctification and blessing — meaning, not just blessing God, but bringing blessing, to all the creatures that we share this planet with. Or, in Rabbi Moshe Cordovero‘s words, זֶה הַכְּלָל, הַחֶמְלָה עַל כָּל הַנִּמְצָאִים שֶׁלֹּא לְחַבְּלָם, תְּלוּיָה בְּחָכְמָה — may we live and work and act so that our actions “cause life to stream forth, to all beings”.
 compiled by Aharon Varady. All translations in the Public Domain.
|Source (Hebrew)||Translation (English)|
תלמוד בבלי ברכות כה א – ברכות כה ב
Talmud Bavli Tractate Brakhot 35a-b
MISHNAH What blessing do we say over fruit? Over the fruit of trees, one says, “[Blessed are you, YHVH Eloheinu, cosmic majesty] Who forms the fruit of the tree,” except over wine; for over wine one says, “…Who forms the fruit of the vine.” Over the fruits of the Earth one says: “…Who forms the fruit of the ground,” except over bread; for over bread one says, “…Who brings forth bread from the Earth.” Over vegetables one says, “…Who forms the fruit of the ground” ; but Rebbi Yehuda declares: “…Who forms diverse kinds of herbs (desha’im).”
GEMARAH […] Our Rabbis have taught: A person is forbidden to enjoy anything of this world without a blessing, and whoever does so commits sacrilege. What is the remedy? Let them go to a Sage. Let them go to a Sage! What can they do for them, seeing that they have done what is forbidden? But, said Rava: [The meaning is,] let them from the first go to a Sage who will teach them the blessings, so that they should not come to commit sacrilege.
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: Whoever enjoys anything of this world without a blessing is as though he had partaken of the holy things of Heaven; as it is said, “The Earth is for YHVH and the fullness thereof” (Psalms 24:1). Rav Levi asked: It is written, “The Earth is for YHVH and the fullness thereof,” and it is written, “The heavens are the heavens of YHVH, but the Earth he has given to the children of Adam” (Psalms 115:16)! There is no contradiction; the former passage referring [[fol. 35 b.]] to before the blessing [has been uttered], the latter to after the blessing. Rav Ḥannina bar Pappa said: Whoever enjoys anything of this world without a blessing is as though he robbed the blessed Holy One and the Community of Israel; as it is said, “Whoso robs his father or his mother and says, It is no transgression, the same is the companion of a destroyer” (Proverbs 28:24) — “father” is none other than the blessed Holy One; as it is said, “Is not He your father that has acquired you?” (Deut. 32:6); and “mother” is none other than the Community of Israel; as it is said, “Hear, my son, the instruction of your father, and forsake not the teaching of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8). What means “the companion of a destroyer”? Rav Ḥannina bar Pappa said: He is the companion of Yerovam the son of Nevat, who corrupted Yisrael against their Father in Heaven.
How a person should accustom himself with the attribute of Ḥokhmah (Wisdom).
Although it is hidden and exceedingly exalted, the Supernal attribute of Ḥokhmah is spread out over all that exists. As it says regarding it, “How great are Your works, Hashem; You have made them all with Ḥokhmah.” Tehillim 104:24 Similarly, a person’s Ḥokhmah should be found in everything, and they should teach in order to benefit other people with their Ḥokhmah – each and everyone according to their capacity. They should influence others with their Ḥokhmah to the best of their ability – letting no factor at all distract them.
Now to the Supernal attribute of Ḥokhmah, there are two aspects. The higher aspect – which faces Keter and does not face downwards; rather, it receives from above. The second and lower aspect – faces downwards, overseeing the other sefirot, to which it extends its Ḥokhmah. Likewise a person should have two aspects: The first aspect should be his contemplation in solitude with his Creator in order to increase and perfect his Ḥokhmah; the second should be to teach others the Ḥokhmah that the blessed Holy One has bestowed upon him. And just as the Supernal attribute of Ḥokhmah bestows to each sefirah according to its measure and needs, so, too, one should bestow his Ḥokhmah to each person according to the measure his intellect can bear, and to what is proper for him and his needs. One should be careful not to give more than the mind of the recipient can contain, so that no harm will result, just as the Supernal sefirah of Ḥokhmah does not add on more than the limited capacity of the recipient (sefirah).
Moreover, it is the nature of Ḥokhmah to oversee all of existence, for it is the Supernal Thought which forever thinks about everything that exists. Of Ḥokhmah it is said: “For My thoughts are not like your thoughts,” Isaiah 55:8 and it is written “He gives thought so that he who is exiled is not banished forever,” II Samuel 14:14 and it is written “For I know the thoughts which I think of you the House of Israel, says YHVH are thoughts of peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 Likewise, a person should keep an open eye on the conduct of the Nation of God in order to help them. Their thoughts should be concerned with bringing near those who have strayed, and with thinking of any good they can do for them. Just as the Divine Mind contemplates how to help all existence, they too should contemplate how to help their fellows. They should give good counsel for the sake of God and His nation, regarding both individual and communal matters. And concerning one who has strayed from the path of good conduct, they should guide them to the path of proper conduct, serving as their intellect and thought, to direct and lead them to good and upright behavior, just as the Supernal Thought corrects “Adam HaElyon” (the Heavenly form of Adam/humanity).
Furthermore, Ḥokhmah instills life into everything. As it is written: “And Ḥokhmah instills life into those who possess it.” Kohelet 7:12 Likewise, one should instruct the entire world in the ways of life, causing them to attain life in this world and in the World to Come, thus providing them with true life. In general, one should be a constant source of life to all.
In addition, Ḥokhmah is the ‘father’ of all existence. As it is written: “How great are Your works, Hashem: You have made them all with Ḥokhmah.” Tehillim 104:24 Thus, everything lives and exists from there (from that source). Likewise, one should act as a father to all of the blessed Holy One’s creatures, particularly to the Bnei Yisroel, for they are holy souls which emanate from there. One should constantly pray for mercy and blessing for the world, the same say that the Supernal ‘Father’ has mercy on all His beings. And they should constantly pray for the salvation of those who are in distress, as if they were actually one’s own children and they, themself, had formed them, for this is what the blessed Holy One desires. As in the way the faithful shepherd Moshe said: “Did I conceive this nation…that You say to me, ‘Carry it in your breast’?” Bamidbar 11:12 In this way, a person should carry all of God’s nation “as a nurse carries a nursing infant.” ibid. “They should gather the lambs in his arm, lifting them to his bosom, and lead the young nursing ones.” Isaiah 40:11 They should remember to recover the forgotten, look after the desolate, heal the broken, nourish the incapacitated, and return the lost. One should have mercy on Bnei Yisroel, bearing its burdens cheerfully, just as the Merciful Supernal Father bears all. One should not tire or look away or get disgusted; rather, they should lead each and every one according to their needs. These are the qualities of Ḥokhmah – to be like a merciful parent toward their children.
Furthermore, one’s compassion should extend to all creatures and they should neither despise nor destroy them, for the Supernal Ḥokhmah spreads over all of creation: inanimate objects, plants, animals and humans. For this reason, we are warned by our Sages against treating food disrespectfully. This is a proper concept, for just as the Supernal Ḥokhmah does not despise anything that exists, since everything is created from it – as it is written, “You have made them all with Ḥokhmah,” Tehillim 104:24 so, too, a person’s compassion should be upon all the creations of the Blessed One. For this reason, Rabbi Yehudah “the Holy One” was punished, because he did not have pity on a calf that hid by him under his cloak, in order to evade slaughter, and he said to it, “Go! You were created for this purpose.” Bava Metzia 85a Suffering – which derives from the aspect of strict judgment – came upon him. For only compassion shields against strict judgment. Thus, when he had mercy on a weasel, and said “His compassion is upon all His creations,” Tehillim 145:9 he was delivered from strict judgment, for the light of Ḥokhmah spread over him, and his suffering was removed. ibid.
Similarly, one should not disparage any creature that exists, for all of them were created with Ḥokhmah. Nor should one uproot plants or kill animals unless they are needed. And one should choose a noble death for them, using a carefully inspected sharp knife, in order to be merciful as much as possible.
This is the general principle: Having pity on all beings not to hurt them, is contingent on Ḥokhmah.
Except, when elevating them to a higher level – from plant to animal, or from animal to human – then it is permissible to uproot a plant or slaughter a live animal, causing damage in order to bring merit. Did the RAMAK write this very last final line? It would seem to contradict Ramak’s earlier statement: עוֹד צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת רַחֲמָיו פְּרוּסִים עֶל כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים, לֹא יְבַזֵּם וְלֹא יְאַבְּדֵם. שֶׁהֲרֵי הַחָכְמָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה הִיא פְּרוּסָה עַל כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים, דּוֹמֵם וְצוֹמֵחַ וְחַי וּמְדַבֵּר. (Furthermore, one’s compassion should extend to all creatures and they should neither despise nor destroy them, for the Supernal Ḥokhmah spreads over all of creation: inanimate objects, plants, animals and humans.) Is it possible that it was added by a later author to conform Ramak’s strong statements with that of a Lurianic approach? As the last line in the chapter it would seem to subvert so much before it and be easily tacked on afterward by a later scribe or editor –Aharon Varady
|1||compiled by Aharon Varady. All translations in the Public Domain.|
|2||Translation courtesy of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, with minor changes by Aharon Varady for gender|
|5||II Samuel 14:14|
|13||Bava Metzia 85a|
|16||Did the RAMAK write this very last final line? It would seem to contradict Ramak’s earlier statement: עוֹד צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת רַחֲמָיו פְּרוּסִים עֶל כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים, לֹא יְבַזֵּם וְלֹא יְאַבְּדֵם. שֶׁהֲרֵי הַחָכְמָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה הִיא פְּרוּסָה עַל כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים, דּוֹמֵם וְצוֹמֵחַ וְחַי וּמְדַבֵּר. (Furthermore, one’s compassion should extend to all creatures and they should neither despise nor destroy them, for the Supernal Ḥokhmah spreads over all of creation: inanimate objects, plants, animals and humans.) Is it possible that it was added by a later author to conform Ramak’s strong statements with that of a Lurianic approach? As the last line in the chapter it would seem to subvert so much before it and be easily tacked on afterward by a later scribe or editor –Aharon Varady|
“ברכות | Bringing blessing to all life on Earth, a d’var tefilah on making blessings over foods by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.
Works of related interest:
The Council of All Beings, an activity for all ages on the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah, on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul
הָרַחֲמָן עַל שְׁנַת הַשְׁמִיטָה | A Haraḥaman for the Shmitah Year in the Birkat haMazon, by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)
Oración por nuestra tierra | תְּפִילָת הָאָרֶץ | A Prayer for Our Earth, an ecumenical prayer by Pope Francis, translated and adapted by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)