Some people say that the difference between a human and an animal is the power of speech, others say it is consciousness, and, of course, others say that there are no differences. The Torah’s answer to this question is that only humans were made out of a combination of heaven and earth. In the creation of the first human being, God took earth, formed it, and then breathed a living spirit into it. This was Adam, the first human being.
Because of humankind’s unique combination of the physical and the spiritual, people have an obligation, and often an innate need, to elevate the world around them and thus strengthen their spiritual selves.
One way of elevating the mundane is to follow the advice of Rabbi Shimon: “If three people ate together at a table without speaking words of Torah, it is as if they had eaten of sacrifices offered to the dead…But if three are at a table and spoke words of Torah; it is as though they had eaten from the table of God” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 3:3).
The need for food is the most basic physical drive for all creatures. But, there are several ways in which Jews elevate the eating process (kosher food, blessingsbefore and after). Socializing over food is also a means of fulfilling a basic physical need. So when people add an element of “food for the soul,” they feed their spiritual selves as well.
“Speaking words of Torah” may seem a lofty aspiration or a daunting suggestion. Words of Torah, however, can be a conversation about an interesting Biblical story or a discussion of Jewish law (or even sharing something that appeared in Jewish Treats!).