Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a primary source for the teaching that “Elul” is an anagram for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine) is the Shulchan Aruch – The Set Table. This verse from Song of Songs is seen by the sages as a call for us to reconnect with the Divine (our “Beloved”) during this season of teshuvah – renewal and repentance. Yet as we stare at our own brimming tables (and across them), this Rosh Hashanah, I offer the following meditations on this verse’s spirit of reciprocity – not just with God, but with each other and the food that connects us:
“To make a thing is mortal man’s pride; but to be conditioned in a common job, with the unconscious humility of being a part, of participation and partaking, is the true food of earthly immortality…Only if someone grasps [a person's] hand not as a “creator” but as a fellow-creature lost in the world, to be his comrade or friend or lover…does he have an awareness and a share of mutuality…The instinct [for communion] is the longing for the world to become present to us as a person, which goes out to us as we to it, which chooses and recognizes us as we do it, which is confirmed in us as we in it.”
~ Martin Buber, Between Man and Man
“When we understand the connection between the food on our table and the fields where it grows, our everyday meals can anchor us to nature and the place where we live…For the ritual of cooking and eating together constitutes the basic element of family and community life.”
~ Alice Waters, Slow Food, The Case for Taste
Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.
Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.
~ Marge Piercy , The Seven of Pentacles