As one of the twelve sons of Yaakov Avinu, Asher received a unique and generous blessing to have a lot of sustenance and bounty. His very name Asher (אשר) connotes happiness and richness (from the root of the word osher [אושר]) and indeed, Asher’s portion in Eretz Yisrael was the most fertile and brought the best produce among all the tribes. Our sages teach in a Midrash that this blessing indeed spilled over to other areas of life, making the women born to the tribe of Asher among the most beautiful and desired.
Kabbalistically, Asher’s tribe correspond to the month of Shevat when we celebrate the New Year of Trees on T’u (14th) B’Shvat. In Pri Tzadik, Rabbi Tzadok haCohen of Lublin teaches that the Torah writes "As for Asher, his produce [should be] fat (rich, delicious)." This, he writes, means that Asher’s essenceis related to enjoying the food. Before passing away, Moshe Rabbenu also blessed the tribe that it should be “blessed above other sons, be esteemed by his brothersand may he bathe his feet in olive oil.”
At first glance, all these blessings seem to be emphasizing physical enjoyment of this world a littletoo much. But as we know, nothing is as simple as it seems. Let’s delve deeper and see what lessons the tribe of Asher can teach us!
The Kabbalah of affluence
We all wish to be affluent, and not have to worry about money. This is, in fact, as Kabbalistic need as a physical one, as Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan that a person needs to be very rich in order to acquire “depth of Torah”. The reason is very simple: one needs a fully free mind in order to delve into the secrets of Torah, and that includes having no concerns about sustenance. And he names great sages like Moshe Rabbenu, Eliyahu HaNavi, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and many others who were incredibly rich.
Another dimension to this is that sustenance and money can be a very good thing as these are blessings that enable one to become fully at peace with the worldand serve Hashem better. In fact, our sages in the Talmud teach us that a person will be held accountable in the next world for everything he did not enjoy. Clearly then Hashem intends us to enjoy the pleasures of this world in order to appreciate his goodness.
Obviously, this enjoyment must be moderated, and everything must be done for the sake of Divine Service since this is how we get closer to Hashem. Enjoying this world purely for pleasure’s sake is, as we all know, a very bad thing and can bring a person to very bad places. So proper intention when enjoying the world is crucial. This is what the Ba’al Shem Tov writes in Tzava’at HaRiVash (“the testament of the Ba’al Shem Tov”) that a person should think “If this is sweet to me, imagine how much more so would Hashem be!”.
One who has affluence, provided he’s been working on his middot (personality traits) will also become more generous, happier and live healthier.
Secrets from food
Eating reveals much of our spiritual standing. It is one of the most difficult traits to dominate, as usually when we eat, we tend to relax and just enjoy the food. However, as many Chassidic masters like the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Noam Elimelech and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teach us, there’s an incredible divine service behind eating.
From the writings of the Arizal, we find that eating is quite literally the physical counterpart of prayer and blessings. It enables us to draw down the light we took from the upper worlds into the physical realm by eating. This is why Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in Sha’ar Ruach HaKodesh (“Gate of the Holy Spirit”) that his master taught him that one who wishes to have Ruach HaKodesh (“Holy Spirit”) should be very careful to do all the blessings of enjoyment [like food and drinks]with incredible concentration, and this is “one of the most important things to do in order to attain it”!
One would expect that fasting or praying hard would be the main requirements to attain Ruach HaKodesh, but how amazing it is that Hashem made it so that “simple” blessings well done would be the most important step! The blessings of enjoyment not only thank Hashem and draw down bounty from the spiritual worlds to our lives, but also take out the spiritual impurities of the food therefore cleansing us. It’s in fact a very natural cleansing process of our soulsthrough which we eventually gain this understanding.
The name Asher (אשר) is also word we use to draw down the Mochin (divine consciousness) from the Sephira of Binah (understanding) when making a blessing “asher kidshnanu b’mitzvotav…”. As many of us know, since we don’t have the Altar for sacrifices today, our tables effect atonement. One way to do so is by inviting others to share our bounties while eating. Another way, Rebbe Nachman teaches, is by eating like royalty. Since the Altar is an aspect of the Sephira of Malkhut (Kingship), if we eat like royalty, we are able to bring down even more sustenance to us.
The main question we should be asking is: are we eating the food or is the food eating us?
As Hashem is infinite and lacks nothing, may we all be blessed to live richly and draw down all the blessings we need, both spiritually and materially!