One of the things that really fascinates me about Italy is the food. I discovered that eating Italian isn’t only about pasta and spaghetti, pizza, tomato sauce and olive oil. There’s a huge repertoire of beautiful and (I assume) delicious foods and tastes.
The Joys of Food
Walking down the narrow alleys of Venice and Florence we stopped at delicatessen windows to stare at the mind-boggling array of gastronomical delights. From fish stores to bakeries, bars and cafe’s, sweet-shops and restaurants and of course the enormous selection of Gelateria – Ice-cream shops. A kaleidoscope of colors, combinations and shapes.
I thought to myself, as an observant Jew is there any use or significance to looking at mouth-watering but non-Kosher food? Maybe I shouldn’t even stop at the windows of treifa establishments and take pleasure in looking at things I’m not meant to eat? Why tempt myself for nothing?
Then I recalled the words of the Jerusalem Talmud.
“In the future each person will have to give an accounting on every permissible pleasure with which Hashem presented him during his lifetime and of which he did not partake” (Yerushalmi, Kiddushin, ch. 4, p. 66).
Of course this doesn’t mean that we should take a bohemian attitude. The view of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die” is criticized sharply by the prophets (Yeshayahu 22:13). Rather, our attitude should be: Let me find the positive things that G-d has given me and develop a closer relationship with Him. The key to developing a positive relationship with G-d is by feeling gratitude and appreciation toward Him for ALL the positive things that He gives us.
One could assume that the Talmud is referring only to “Kosher” pleasures and not to non-Kosher food. Our Sages are recommending that we take a small taste of everything permissible and express our appreciation.
How to Enjoy non-Kosher Food
At second though I realized that one can also “enjoy” non-Kosher food and serve G-d through it. For example, I can appreciate the knowledge and skill that He put in the minds of chefs to create these earthly delights which bring enjoyment to many people. After all there is a special Blessing to be made upon meeting a wise (albeit non-Jewish) person. See Seeing a Scholar.
I can enjoy the beauty and colors and give thanks that my eyes are able to see them. One can appreciate things even without actually sinking your teeth in them. I recall many times overhearing women at weddings and Bar-Mitzvas enthusiastically praising the beauty of petite-fours and sculpted fruit trays and a moment later apologizing for not eating them because of a diet :-). So thank G-d for non-Kosher food as it sustains 99.8% of the world’s non-Jewish population.
If you got the impression that we walked around for five days in Italy totally starved and drooling over non-Kosher food, then perish the thought. We ate at three Glatt-Kosher restaurants and the food was delicious. We even enjoyed Roman Pizza., which is an experience in itself. 😛