If there is one word that sums up the ongoing pandemic, it’s uncertainty. Even the symptoms of the virus are unclear, with scientists learning more each day. In recent weeks, many have suffered a loss of the sensations of smell and taste – and now this has been recognised as symptoms of COVID 19.
The Torah neither expects nor desires humans to live a monastic lifestyle. In fact, we are encouraged to take pleasure in God’s world, but we do run the risk of being distracted by materialism.
The mitzvot therefore help elevate physical experiences to a more meaningful spiritual plane.
Both taste and smell play an important part in Jewish thought. On the most basic level, they are viewed as gifts from God, to enhance the eating experience for our pleasure.
The Almighty could have provided for all of our nutritional needs though a bland grey plant, yet He ‘spoils’ us daily with food that pleasures the palate and tantalises the taste buds.
This is one of the reasons why we bless God before eating, drinking or even smelling fragrant spices. We stop, focus and take in the moment, before savouring the pleasure and connecting it with its Source.
The Hebrew word for taste is ‘taam’, which is also the same word as ‘reason’. When we know the reasons for things, they become far more palatable.
In truth, we never really know the full reason for anything, at best we can only ever have a taste of what is really going on.
Having travelled through a period of loss of taste and smell for many, perhaps it is a time to appreciate the ta’am of life and the bountiful blessings that surround us – all gratuitous gifts for us to enjoy.
Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures. Ta’am, which focuses on Jewish culinary traditions, is one of the member organisations.