EACH MAN ATE AN ANGEL'S MEAL: EATING AND EMBODIMENT IN THE ZOHAR
By JOEL HECKER
UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF ELLIOT R. WOLFSON
Recent kabbalah scholarship has studied the Zohar with an eye to understanding the mystical experience enjoyed and mystical techniques employed by its mystical authors. Eating, like all human activities, is invested with symbolic significance and is bounded by the cultural constraints, goals, and ideal images that try to order, sanctify, or aestheticize this basic biological need. This study examines the symbolic meanings and phenomenology of eating as an aspect of the constructed embodiment within the kabbalistic ethos, as portrayed in the Zohar.
Alongside spiritual experiences located primarily in the soul, other parts of the body, specifically the stomach and inward parts, also serve as locations for these experiences. Mystical experiences associated with eating express a psychosomatic unity: spiritual experiences are located in the body and spiritual experience is expressed bodily. Mystical satiation and the consumption of idealized foods induce experiences of "devequt"; enhanced hermeneutical skills; apotropaic protection; theurgic instrumentality; eugenic potency; and bodily purification.
To gain these experiences, the kabbalists symbolically consume idealized foods through imaginative dining on their own food or through their hermeneutic engagement with the biblical and rabbinic texts. This analysis considers the bodily practices associated with meals that serve wittingly, as techniques, and unwittingly, providing a physical environment for dining rituals performed with mystical intent.
The topography of the body is found to be ideally a body of fullness, whose boundaries are sufficiently permeable to allow for the intake of divine energy, and for the outward overflow of fruitfulness, but also sufficiently closed to suggest completeness, as the perfect symbol for the Divine. A spatio-temporal continuity of the body, allows for unions between the kabbalistic devotee and his food, table, chair, and wine, as well as with his fellow. The diner in the Zohar consumes food of the material world as an avenue to uncovering mystical heights that lie behind it. In eating, the body is assimilated to the Divine even as it partakes of the world in the most material manner. The abyss between spirit and matter is thus vitiated as space is created for spirit in the midst of the stomach.