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The Olive Jew or the Egg Jew?

This week’s parshah contains the commandment to recite Birkas HaMazon, the Grace after Meals. “And you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied and you will bless G-d.” The obligation to recite this blessing is only if one has been satiated by eating the food. If one were to just nibble or snack, there would be no obligation to recite the Birkas HaMazon.

What is the ultimate reason we depend on food for life? Why would G-d create us in a way that forces us to depend on lower forms of life?

According to the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, we do not really live by eating physical food. Food contains within it Divine “sparks” of energy that nourish the soul. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the word of G-d does man live.” It’s not the physical bread but the Divine force that is contained within the bread that sustains us.

When we are more spiritually oriented, we can more easily access and internalize the spiritual energy that is embedded within the food that we ingest. Once we feel the spiritual energy’s effects on us we no longer feel hungry. We are satisfied.

According to Jewish law, we are obligated to recite Grace after Meals only if we are full. But the Talmud states that G-d favors the Jewish people because ““How can I not favor those who are strict and recite the Grace after Meals even if they eat only a k’zayis—the size of an olive—or k’beitza—the size of an egg?” By reciting the blessing—which is usually reserved for one who is satiated—even after eating only the small amount of an olive or an egg, it is a sign that even this reduced amount has accomplished its goal of satisfying one’s hunger for spiritual energy. It is indicative of a heightened spiritual sensitivity that enables satisfaction with much less eating.

However, within this heightened level of spirituality there are two levels: there are those who can extract, digest and absorb the spiritual energy by eating only the small amount of food equivalent to an olive, and those who need the relatively larger size of an egg.

At this point we ought to ponder the difference between the “olive Jew” and the “egg Jew,” and how they relate to us today.

The olive is seen as the symbol of spiritual light because olive oil can be burned to produce a pure light. Olive oil represents the “secrets of the secrets,” the most unknowable aspects of Torah that will only be revealed in the Messianic Era. And just as the olive must be crushed to produce the oil, so too, we have been told, the future Messianic secrets will come after we have endured the painful and crushing period of exile.

However, not everyone has undergone the brutal and crushing effects of exile as did the Jews of the Holocaust and of countless other tragedies is our history. Perhaps they are not as “sophisticated” as the olive Jews, but nevertheless they still deserve to recite the final blessing after the “banquet” of exile because they are like the egg. The egg is a food we eat on Passover and is therefore associated with liberation. It is a unique food in that the longer you cook it the harder it gets.

Just by virtue of our long stay in exile, we have become hardened, even though we have sometimes lived in conditions where Judaism can thrive and where we have enjoyed the blessing of prosperity. We have been hardened—in a positive way. We have withstood the centuries and millennia of exile, and that toughness has enabled us to be more spiritually sensitive than many of our forbearers.

So whether we are “olive Jews” or just “egg Jews,” we are more than satiated and content (excuse the pun: and “fed up”) with the challenges posed by exile. We are ready to pronounce the final blessing on the banquet of exile as we enter into the feast of the Messianic Age, imminently!



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