A Kabbalistic Dinner Party
(For an introduction to the principles of Kabbalah please click here)
However true a set of universal set of principles may be, it is their application to everyday situations which make them real – they are brought to life when they are used in practice.
“As above, so below” is an old spiritual saying – what happens in the heavens is reflected here on earth while the reverse is also true even if it is not spoken of as much.
What we do on earth is reflected in the higher worlds and if we act in accordance with spiritual principles then we help to create order in heaven – this is the Work of Unification in which harmony exists in the four worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation and Action.
The more we become conscious of the process by which something is manifested, the more likely we are to be able to produce something worthwhile.
In this context we should also note that a project with a destructive outcome will still go through the same processes of creation as something which is life enhancing. Intention, in Kabbalah, is everything and is independent of that which is being created. We all have freewill and the advancement of the universe depends upon us using our creative powers for good rather than ill.
The different stages of a Dinner Party set out on the Tree of Life
As an example of applying the principles of Kabbalah to a situation in everyday life let us consider the situation of a dinner party.
We begin at Keter (of Yetzirah) with the person who is in overall command of the operation. This reflects the place held at the Keter of Beriah by God when the world was created which included the heavens as well as the earth – here we are just concerned with dinner.
From the Keter of Yetzirah the creative process will work its way through the world of forms into the physical world of Assiyah and become complete at the Malkut of Yetzirah corresponding to the Tiferet of Malkut.
Deciding what food to cook is one of the early stages in the process of creating a Dinner Party – or any meal.
The host, at Keter, has an idea (Hokhmah) for a dinner party. This may be a sudden idea or something which has been at the back of the host’s mind for some time. Either way, the idea, if it is to be progressed, must move to the next stage which is Binah. Hokhmah is the spark on the active side of the Tree while Binah is on the passive side of the Tree. This is the stage where an understanding is reached of what is involved in the dinner.
Is it to be a relaxed event out of doors where there are many guests who will help themselves from a buffet or is it to be a more formal affair where perhaps six or eight guests are seated at a table and the food is served to them? Perhaps the food itself is incidental to the main nature of the event which could be a fancy dress ball or a musical evening. These are all expressions of
the idea of hospitality which is placed on the path between the Sefirot of Hokhmah and Binah.The same principles still apply when cooking a dinner for yourself with no external guests – you can be hospitable to yourself.
Hokhmah and Binah also guide us in the type of food to be provided. On the one hand the dishes might be innovative fusion of unlikely ingredients which are rarely seen in local shops (Hokhmah); alternatively it could be a traditional meal such as the roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding enjoyed by the English for many centuries (Binah).
The triad formed by Tiferet, Gevurah and Binah shows the nationality of the cuisine – French, English, Indian etc – while the upper right triad formed by Tiferet, Hesed and Hokhmah indicates whether the meal might have religious significance. Christmas Dinner, Iftar (breaking the fast at the end of each day of Ramadan) and the Passover Seder are all examples of festive meals which are specific to a particular spiritual or religious tradition.
If the meal does have religious significance then it may also have to take account of the national – or at least regional - differences in cuisine. Jewish families originating in North Africa and Russia will have very different palates from each other even though they celebrate the same religious festivals.
Thanksgiving, held on the fourth Thursday of November in the USA, has elements of both upper side triads since the founding fathers of the United States were giving thanks to God for surviving the first year in their new land although it is now celebrated by Americans of all faiths (and none) as part of a national holiday with little religious significance.
However much the host may wish to pursue the initial idea, a realisation of all that is entailed – shopping, cooking, clearing – may act as discouragement and the venture will be abandoned. If the party is to be catered then a full understanding of the costs involved may cause him to reach the same conclusion.
Let us assume that our host makes the decision to proceed with the project and crosses once more to the active side
A typical Thanksgiving Dinner in the USA in which the roast turkey is the central feature.
of the Tree – he or she will arrive at the Sefirah of Hesed where the idea is expanded.
Hesed is where the quality of generosity kicks in. There may be a great desire at this point to give as much as one can to one’s guests. A single main course might now be considered insufficient and must be preceded by an hors d’oeuvre and followed not just with dessert but perhaps also with cheese. If the meal is of a less Western European style where all the dishes are brought to the table at the same time then the list of the number of dishes involved may grow rapidly.
A counterbalancing force must eventually make itself felt to keep the whole event in equilibrium – there is only so much room on the table and only so much room inside the stomachs of the guests.
At the Sefirah of Gevurah we meet the quality of discrimination where the number of dishes is pared back to a realistic level. This is where discipline is exerted and the quality of generosity is brought within manageable limits. It may simply be too expensive or too time consuming to prepare and serve all the food that was first envisioned at Hesed.
The process of developing the menu has taken us through the stages of expansion and contraction until the plans have been finalised. It is now known what food will be bought, prepared and served - whether by the host in person or through hired hands. The essence of the evening, the menu, has been established at the Sefirah of Tiferet.
The soul triad formed by Tiferet, Hesed and Gevurah represents the emotional nourishment which can be formed from the idea of hospitality.
The Tiferet of Yetzirah overlays the Keter of Assiyah, the physical world – this is where the menu begins to come into physical existence.
As we move again to the active side of the tree we come to the Sefirah of Netzach where ideas and principles are put into practice. The first aspect of this would be the purchasing and preparation of ingredients which are transformed from their raw state into cooked food. Of course, in some cases the meal might consist predominantly of salads and cold food so there is little or no work to be done at the stove.
When the ingredients are ready they are brought together in the act of cooking and, once this has begun, we cross again to the passive side of the Tree where we encounter the Sefirah of Hod which is demonstrated by the careful measurement of the ingredients. Hod and Netzach work in combination to complement each other’s function. The ingredients as passive until combined together (Netzach) but the combination must be in the correct proportions (Hod).
In this context an additional role played by Hod is that of monitoring the progress of the food as it is cooked. Corrections may be made for additional seasoning or the thickening of a sauce. The length of time for which a dish cooks must also be carefully observed for not all recipes are accurate and some ovens run hotter or cooler than others.
Preparing and cooking the food for a large party may require a number of people working in the kitchen. Different chefs will employ different approaches to ensure the excellence of the finished product.
The capability and judgement of the chef come into play here from the place of Da’at (Knowledge) where he or she will know from experience whether a dish needs to be removed from the oven regardless of the time which is stated in the recipe book.
Cooking the food and monitoring its progress is described by the path from Netzach to Hod which will also bring the host into contact with the awakening triad of Tiferet, Netzach and Hod. If this meal were to form part of a cooking competition, then great importance would be attached to this triad for it represents the animal spirit and the desire to win.
Even without the external stimulus of a competition one can still honour this part of the psyche by doing the best one possibly can so that the meal is prepared to one’s own satisfaction as well as the other diners.
Recipes themselves fit in the thinking triad – they contain important information but do not produce a meal unless the ingredients are bought and prepared in the action triad.
The place of Yesod in the Tree of the Dinner Party corresponds to the table for this is the place where the food is set. Yesod is sometimes likened to screen on which our true nature is reflected before taking on physical reality.
The contents, layout and type of table will profoundly colour the nature of how the meal is experienced. Is it a bare table made of metal and plastic with no cloth and basic eating implements or a highly carved wooden table with starched white linen, silver eating implements and cut glass for fine wines? These are two extremes which will affect the experience of the guests and, in most cases, the actual setting will lie somewhere between the two.
The feeling triad of Yesod- Netzach-Hod will be partly dictated by any music which is played in the room or perhaps by an extravagant floral arrangement on the table. The way in which the room is lit will also affect the mood and atmosphere – natural daylight will create an entirely different atmosphere from multi-coloured stroboscopic lamps which flash on and off at frequent intervals.
Yesod also represents the final interval before serving the food – a moment or few minutes when the host has the chance to sit and observe the proceedings and to notice whether there are any last minute adjustments to be made.
And so we arrive at the Sefirah of Malkut, the Kingdom, where the idea of hospitality is made physically present and food is brought to the table to nourish the souls of those who eat it. As the meal is eaten the physical experience begins to be transformed into the overall non-physical experience of the meal. It may be a particularly memorable meal for good or bad reasons. From the small intimate dinner party to the large scale catered event, meals eaten in company can throw up such possibilities.
One may meet one’s future husband or wife (hopefully a good experience) at dinner or, more unhappily, one might contract food poisoning. Powerful experiences of the meal will be stored in the emotional side triads – the positive ones in the triad of Tiferet-Netzach-Hesed and the negative ones in the triad of Tiferet-Hod-Gevurah.
Sometimes, if the meal is prepared with sufficient consciousness, guests from the Higher Worlds may visit and their access point to the proceedings is shown by the place of Da’at in the world of Yetzirah which corresponds to the Yesod of Beriah – the foundation of the spiritual world.
The altar where sacrifices were made in the time of the Second Temple (which was destroyed in 70 CE) has become the table on which each of us serves and eats meals. Philip Miller tells the story of a student in New York who formed a
dining table out of a supermarket trolley (cart) and took soup
A dinner party in progress. The table can be seen as the vessel of holiness, replacing the sacrifices which were made at the Temple in Jerusalem more than two thousand years ago.
and sandwiches to the homeless every evening against a background of the opulent café culture and increasing prosperity of the 1980’s (remember the movie Wall Street)?
In this instance we might suspect that, although the physical food was important, there was also much value in the emotional nourishment which was created.
Miller goes on to relate the story of an ancient precedent for this practice in which the practice of hospitality is seen as preferable even to the most virtuous act of giving money anonymously – for the full article click here.
The diagram of the Tree of Life which describes every meal will be slightly different in character just as the Tree which describes the physical and emotional makeup of each person is slightly different.
Food – one of the most basic components of human existence - provides some of the most fertile ground for sanctifying the world of Action and unifying it with the higher and unseen worlds as part of the Work of Unification.
© Jonathon Clark 2020