Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sparks of Fish & Meat

Most of the writings on my blog are of a universalist spiritual nature from a Jewish perspective. However, this essay is different. It specifically addresses those who directly engage in the spiritual work of “raising sparks”.

There’s a strongly entrenched Jewish practice from ancient times not to eat fish and meat together on the basis on health risk. In Talmudic times, this food combination was reputed to cause either leprosy or some related disease. This practice was enacted as a Rabbinic decree during the times of the Sanhedrin and carried forward in the ensuing generations as Torah Law.

Apparently, mention of this practice is entirely absent from the Maimonides’ great code of Jewish Law. A couple of later authorities, Rabbi Abraham Gombiner and Rabbi Moses Sofer, viewed this as an indication that the Maimonides, being a physician of note, held that human nature has changed and the danger caused by this particular food combination no longer existed.    

During a class on this topic, Rabbi Mordechai Terebelo explained that it’s self evident based on the circumstances that the Maimonides held that the Rabbinic decree was entirely contingent upon the health risk this food combination had posed. In other words, without the health risk, the Rabbinic decree disappears. While other authorities accepted that the Maimonides was qualified to declare (in this case by his silence) that human nature has changed, they didn’t feel that the Rabbinic decree was actually contingent on the health risk. Accordingly, they maintained a position that though the health risk has been lifted, the Rabbinic decree remains; hence, the current practice to still adhere to this practice.

Yet, if the practical reason for a Rabbinic decree has disappeared, it’s still possible that there’s a Kabbalistic reason for maintaining it, as in the case of the “two day holidays” (instead of one day) observed in the diaspora because outside the Holy Land a download of holiness takes twice as long. So what could be a Kabbalistic reason for maintaining the practice of not eating fish and meat together today?

A good starting point would be the teaching of Rabbi Joseph Hayyim of Baghdad, in his work “Ben Ish Chai”, where he explains the custom of eating fish prior to meat at the Sabbath meals. He explains that saints reincarnate as fish and sinners as beasts. Therefore, the sparks of holiness lodged in fish are readily accessible and relatively easy to elevate, while those inside of meat are wrapped in a tighter grip and much harder to elevate. By first eating fish, a person gains spiritual strength from the sparks easily released by the fish and this helps with the tougher job of extracting the holy sparks from the meat. Though less auspicious for the elevation process, it’s possible that a similar styled process can occur even during the workweek and therefore, technically speaking, both fish and meat are permitted to eat even when it’s not the Sabbath or a holiday. However, Rabbi Joseph Hayyim does not address this latter scenario.

Still, Jewish Law allows for the opposite order as well, first eating meat and then fish. It would make sense based on Rabbi Joseph Hayyim’s teaching that eating fish first is better for the elevation process - as it sets up the whole environment for the interaction between the two forces. However, even if fish is eaten afterwards, it’s probably still better for the elevation of the meat sparks than if fish was not eaten at all.

However, eating fish and meat together would compromise the whole elevation process. There’s a Chabad Hasidic teaching that when two gather together to discuss holy matters, it’s two good inclinations ganging up on one evil inclination. What this means is that by nature what’s good tends to be selfless and kind, allowing for cooperation and smooth work. In contrast, evil’s selfish streak does not allow it to hold together for too long in a state of cooperation. Therefore, during the holy discussion, the two good inclinations will work together and are counted as “two”, while the two evil inclinations will be “each man for himself” with each counted as “one”, i.e. individually isolated.

The way evil has a chance of holding together is if there’s good mixed inside it, serving as a kind of “glue”. If evil were isolated by becoming entirely devoid of good, it’s chaotically unstable and eventually, self implodes - as is currently happening in certain geographic locations (where people of moderation and goodwill are disempowered).
So to elevate meat, it’s best not to give it “glue” of goodness to hold together. It’s better to leave it isolated, in its naturally destabilized state, and then overwhelm it with a concentration of potent goodness coming from the fish sparks.
Therefore, the separation between fish and meat, serves to isolate each side with its own. When goodness, i.e. the fish, is brought together with its own kind, it strengthens and becomes more potent. When evil is brought together with its own kind, it weakens. Its selfish nature leads to chaos and power struggles; making it easy prey for a potent force of goodness.

May the unified highly potent force of goodness, the Messiah, arrive very soon, very soon in our days. Amen!

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