Sunday, July 11, 2004


THE PROPHET: Speak to us of Eating and Drinking

In his book THE PROPHET Khalil Gibran writes the following:

Then an old man, a keeper of an inn, said:

Speak to us of Eating and Drinking.

And he (the prophet Gibran names Almustafa) said:

Would that you could live on the fragrance of the earth, and like an air plant be sustained by the light.
But since you must kill to eat, and rob the newly born of its mother's milk to quench your thirst let it then be an act of worship...

When you kill a beast say to him in your heart:
"By the same power that slays you, I too am slain and I too shall be consumed.
"For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.
"Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven."

And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart:

"Your seeds shall live in my body,
"And the buds of your to-morrow shall blossom in my heart."
"And your fragrance shall be my breath,
"And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons."

And in the autumn, when you gather the grapes of your vineyards for the winepress, say in your heart:

"I too am a vineyard, and my fruit shall be gathered for the winepress,
"And like new wine I shall be kept in eternal vessels."

And in winter, when you draw the wine, let there be in your heart a song for each cup;

And let there be in the song a rememberance for the autumn days, and for the vineyard and for the winepress."

We see, then, that to the spiritually sensitive there is sorrow in the killing of plants in order to consume them, even as there is sorrow in the killing of animals. Yet, both should be undertaken as an act of worship and expression of gratitude to God.

There is realism too, for it is understood that we are not "air plants". Neither are plants air plants. They too struggle mightily for survival and choke one another's roots in order to survive.

I have been a vegan, a vegetarian and an omnivore in my life. I can in no wise honestly say that the way I ate at any time determined my relative moral/spiritual level. I have worked gathering chickens for slaughter on kibbutz and I have torn "weeds" from their roots in order that there may be cotton to make clothes with and lovely gardens to soothe the soul. Both tasks broke my heart equally. I have seen the relief of citrus trees laden with more fruit than they can bear when the fruit is plucked from them, or cut from their living branches with razor sharp pruning shears. I have seen the thick red-brown sap of pruned tress drip and flow from them as would blood. Is grain not cut down and harvested with a machete or a combine? Is that a gentle process? Does it instill gentleness in those who do it again and again? I have seen fruit that has fallen from the trees, which is the *only* food that may be gathered without plucking food from the Source of its life, crawling with worms and wholly inedible.

I know that all eating is sorrow, even at it is pleasurable and joyous, and that all life is dependent on the rot of death, even as all death is fed with an endless procession of that which once lived.

This is the way of creation: that which lives will one day die and that which dies will become the fertile ground of life. We can minimize the suffering, but we cannot eliminate it.

If one would be a vegetarian so be it - but understand in so doing one has only moved from one level of suffering to the next, more rarified, level and be not smug or deluded into thinking that we have transcended putrification, be it physical or moral.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel