A king was preparing his child to inherit his throne. To be groomed as a great leader, the king knew that he must send his son away from the palace to live among the common folk, the subjects. This would allow him to earn his way to be a compassionate and fitting leader.
The sad day comes. As the king bids farewell to his weeping son, the king promises him that he will stay in touch with him, and even in the most difficult times the son will be able to access his father, the king.
And so it happens. The son is sent off to a distant land in the kingdom where no one recognizes him. He must learn to make his way and earn his right on his own, with no one shielding him. As time passes, the son slowly forgets his past and the purpose of his journey.
But the wise king anticipated what would happen. He understood that with time, his son would forget his roots and assimilate into the ways of the foreign land that he now inhabits. In order to counter this amnesia, the king sends his son a letter several times a year reminding him that, “I am your father, the king. You were sent to this distant land in order to prepare you for your destiny, to be a great leader of this nation. Never forget it.”
When the son receives the letter, he is ecstatic and wants to celebrate. He remembers the beauty of the palace and his home. He recalls the purpose of his mission to this strange land.
He has a great desire to celebrate and announce to all his neighbors the true reason for his coming to live in this town. But he soon thinks better of it. He realizes that the townspeople will not understand or appreciate where he is coming from and that he is being groomed to be their leader. They would not believe him, thinking him insane. They might even be resentful.
But his desire to celebrate is strong. He thinks of an idea. After he receives the letter, he makes an announcement in town, offering everyone in town a free meal and drinks. Of course, all the townspeople are delighted. They accept the offer and celebrate for their free dinner and cocktails. Meanwhile, while they are distracted and celebrating their free meal, the king’s son celebrates with them for the letter he received from his father.
G-d is the king and each of us is the king’s child. Our natural environment before coming to Earth is the heavenly palace, a spiritual environment where our souls are completely comfortable. But in order for us to establish and demonstrate our true abilities, G-d sends us away from our comfort zone into a foreign, material world. A world that can be harsh and cruel.
And we forget. As we grow accustomed to our material existence, we forget our point of departure and our destination – the purpose of our journey to Earth.
But G-d sends us a “letter” several times a year – He gives us the holidays, reminders that we come from a greater place, and we are here to transform the material world into a Divine abode, a home for our souls. When we receive these letters, we naturally want to celebrate.
However, our physical bodies and the material world around us are not exactly prepared to celebrate with us; they do not understand or appreciate the spiritual message we have received.
So G-d tells us: “Feed your body with good food and drink on the holiday. Provide it with free meals and cocktails. Allow your body to celebrate on its terms, while you celebrate the ‘letter’ that you have received from Me on this grand holiday.”
That’s the secret of food. The body of food is the nourishment and gratification it gives your body. The soul of food is the Divine message which each holiday offers us.
(Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of Toward a Meaningful Life and he is the editor of www.meaningfulife.com.)