Monday, March 15, 2010

Got Eucharist?

Recently Seth has been posting on the topic of Eucharist. In his posts he rightly defended his opinion that while the first Eucharist my have been taken in connection with Passover it need not be limited to that setting as is the practice among many messianic communities. I enjoyed reading what he had to say and thought that I would add my thoughts here on The Emergent Observer.

The word Eucharist is derived from the Greek εὐχαριστία, meaning thanksgiving. Eucharist then is a reference to the brachah (benediction) and not the bread. While most people would assume that a Eucharistic rite has not been present within Jewish tradition since the days of the Jewish apostles I would like to challenge that notion to some extent by presenting current and living customs surrounding the Jewish meal experience as a very real kind of Eucharist. This will be a short and simple (and very idealistic) walk through the meal, something to think about.

Since the time of the Temple’s destruction rabbinic writings have described the table of a Jewish home as a very real kind of alter (Berachot 10b). As an extension of this, bread upon the table has come to reflect the redeeming sacrifice. In Jewish thought the ingesting of food is not actually considered a meal (seudah) without bread. Before any observant Jew eats bread he or she must wash with a keli (washing vessel) as is required by Jewish law. It must be understood that through this custom this holy Jew is, very much, being compared to the priests which once washed in the Temple. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk explained that before washing in preparation for bread one should recite a prayer of repentance composed by Rabbeinu Yonah (p. 229, Jewish Spiritual Practices).

Rabbeinu Yonah’s Prayer Of The Repentant:

(From Yesod ha-Tshuvah, translated by Rabbi Yosef Peretz)

Please G-d, I have sinned and transgressed, (and such and such I did) from the day I came to the land until this very day. And now, my heart has moved me and my spirit has pressed me to return to You in truth and with a good and complete heart, with all my heart, soul, and meodi (everything precious to me), and to admit and drop (my bad ways), to cast away from myself all my sins and to make for myself a new heart and a new spirit, and to be meticulous and careful in Your yira (fear, in order not to return to sin). And You H-shem, my G-d, who opens His hand with teshuva and helps those who come to purify. Open Your hand and receive me with complete teshuva before You. And help me to strengthen in Your yira. And help me against the Satan who wages war with me with cunning strategies and seeks my soul to destroy me, that he should not rule over me. And distance him from my 248 limbs and cast him to the depths of the sea and thwart him in order that he not stand on my right to accuse me. And do that I should go in Your laws, and remove this heart of stone from me and give me a heart of flesh.
Please H-shem, my G-d, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications and receive my teshuva. And do not let any sin prevent my prayer and teshuva, and there should be before Your holy throne, straight defenders to defend me and to bring my prayer before You. And if in my many and great sins, there is noone to defend me, make an opening from under Your throne of glory, and receive my teshuva, that I should not return empty from before You. Because You listen to prayer.

It is explained that the righteous eat in love and holy fear of G-d as if in prayer (p.18, Darkei Tzedek). After eating bread we recite Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals, as its written: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless Hashem your G-d for the good land which he gave you". (Due. 8:10) When three or more people are present this is done in a somewhat more elaborate fashion. Those in attendance are given a formal invitation (zimmun) to participate. The leader holds in the palm of his right hand a full cup of wine. The cup is elevated off the table making a connection to the passage from Psalms, “I will lift the Cup of Salvations and I shall call on Hashem.” In conclusion of the Birkat Hamazon the leader makes the preliminary blessing over wine and drinks from the cup. This is ritual is described in detail by the Zohar. Please notice in the text given below that the Zohar, like Paul, refers to the cup as “the cup of blessing.”

Soncino Zohar, Bereshit, Section 1, Page 250a, b:

“Rab Hamnuna the Elder would not allow anyone else to take the cup of blessing, but he himself took it in his two hands and said the blessing. We have affirmed that the cup should be taken in the right hand, and not in the left. It is called "cup of salvations—Kos Yeshuot" (Ps. CXVI, 13), because through it blessings are drawn from the supernal salvations, and in it is collected the supernal wine. Also, the table over which the blessing is said should not be devoid of both bread and wine. The Community of Israel is called "cup of blessing", and therefore the cup should be raised both by the right hand and the left hand, so as to be set between. It should be filled with wine, because of the wine of the Torah which issues from the future world. There is a mystic allusion in this cup of blessing to the holy chariot (vehicle for the divine Presence). The right and left hands correspond to the north and south, between which is "the couch of Solomon". He who says the blessing should fix his eye upon the cup to bless it with four blessings. Thus the cup contains the emblem of faith, north, south, east, and west, and so the holy chariot. There should be bread on the table in order that the lower bread may be blessed, and the "bread of poverty" may become the "bread of luxury". In this way the Community of Israel will be blessed in all four directions, above and below-above by the Bread of Blessing and the Cup of Blessing through which King David is joined to the patriarchs, and below, that bread should never be lacking from the Israelite's table.”

And it was right there in the tradition all along, we didn't need to change a thing. The Jewish meal is a real Eucharist all we need is the kavanah.


Miri said...

That's what I teach my kids. We actually have a whole unit about the Shabbat Table standing in the stead of the Holy Temple, and their holy duty at the Shabbat Table is to act as priests. Comparing bread to a sacrifice is appropriate since we dip the bread in salt. Salt was accompanied with sacrifices and offerings. Anyway, if you want the illustrations I give my kids, let me know.

Tim Layne said...

Salt! I should have mentioned that, Thanks Miri!