Monday, September 01, 2008

Seudah Shelishit: The Mystical Third Meal

Jewish food spirituality is three-fold. It is grounded in beracha/"blessing", Kashrut/"fitness" and Seudah/"[celebratory] meal." The essence of these things, expressed in manifold and varied ways by different Jewish groups is: Gratitude for the blessing of food, thinking about the kinds of foods we eat and under what conditions, and using food as a medium by which we celebrate life. For several entries now we have been looking at the particular forms of food spirituality found in the Hasidic world. Here's anothere example.
Hasids do a lot of partying at the end of Shabbat. Before Melaveh Malkah, before Havdalah, there comes Seudah Shelishit. Like many other Hasidic customs, this has ample precedent in earlier Jewish practice.

The obligation to eat three meals over the course of Shabbat is derived from the TaNaKH and elaborated upon in later Jewish law (B.T. Shabbat 117b; S.A. Orah Chayyim 291). Eating three meals, we are told, shields the practitioner from the travails of the Messiah's coming, the messianic wars, and punishment in Gehenna (Shabbat 118a).

Customarily a light meal of bread, salad, and fish are eaten and psalms and piyyut are sung (Ps. 23, for example, and Yedid Nefesh). The classical Kabbalah (Zohar, III:88a) develops mystical rationale for this custom (see my earlier discussion of the significance of bread and fish), and turned this previously personal obligation into a public event where esoteric teachings are to be revealed:

Those who penetrate the secrets of the divine are permitted at this meal to reveal the secrets of the Torah to those who are God-fearing and those who delve into His name, withour fear...

(Hemdat Yammim, I, p. 125, as translated by Aaron Wertham)

Hasidism expands this further:

This meal corresponds to Jacob [the most perfect of the three patriarchs]....this meal contains the essence of the spiritual purpose [to mend the cosmos] (Mishmeret Shalom 29:2)

and also views seudah shelishit as the time to say farewell to the "extra-soul" of Shabbat (Keter Shem Tov 2:21). It is a foretaste of death (the "dying" of Shabbat), so it also a time of profound proximity to God.[1]

Zal G'mor: To learn more, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism - http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, p. 439.


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