That is the Question
The Torah does not often give instructions related to food. Besides the laws of Kashruth, and those that relate to Pesach, there are no instructions on how to prepare food or how to eat it.
The only remarkable exception to this is the law concerning the Korban Pesach, the Passover Lamb.
The Torah commands the members of every Jewish home to roast a lamb and eat it on the eve of the first day of Pesach in the Temple in a similar way to how it was eaten at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. (Shemot 12:1-28; 43-49; Devarim 16:1-8)
While on all other occasions, the Torah leaves it up to the human being to decide whether he will eat his food cooked or roasted, the text is, in this instance, most explicit in its instructions that Jews should only eat this meat once it is properly roasted.
�Then you shall eat the meat on that night, roasted with fire; with unleavened bread (matzot) and bitter herbs are they to eat it. You may not eat of it half-cooked and also not boiled in water, only roasted with fire, its head with its legs and with its innards.� (Shemot 12:8)
What is the difference between cooking and roasting? And why does the Torah emphasize the absolute prohibition to cook or boil the Passover lamb in such uncompromising terms?
Maharal, in his commentary on the Hagada, explains that there is a basic difference between cooking (boiling) and roasting. To paraphrase him, cooking is an act which �assimilates� while roasting �separates�. When cooking, we draw several other ingredients into the object we are boiling. These ingredients assimilate with the object and the object itself absorbs, and even adapts itself to the added components. It also expands, absorbing the other ingredients and becomes soft and begins to disintegrate.
Roasting, however, does the reverse: its main function is to expel. Not only does it remove all the blood present, but it also separates all ingredients that are not essential to the meat. As such, it shrinks the meat and makes it tough and impenetrable.
This, explains Maharal, is the symbol behind the Korban Pesach. At the time of the Exodus, when the people of Israel are, for the first time, to become a nation, it is not yet possible to allow any absorption from outside.
No outer influences that could compromise its essential nature may be permitted. The formation of the nation must involve a courageous stand against the world in which it endured a 210-year exile and reject its culture.
As such, it cannot allow any expansion that will weaken its inner structure. It must be solid and impenetrable. This is the time to strengthen its own identity and reject all foreign elements.
We may wonder why the Torah makes this requirement only once a year. Why not place a solid prohibition against all cooking and boiling, since such acts symbolize matters that are in opposition to the essential nature of the people of Israel? Should this not be the logical conclusion of the above? Nevertheless, not only do we not find such a prohibition, but we are actually told about a positive commandment to cook the offering of the Nazir, the person who for a limited amount of time denies himself some physical benefits so as to better his spiritual situation. He is commanded to bring an offering including a cooked forefoot of the ram. (Bamidbar 6:19)
The answer is symptomatic of the Jewish Tradition. Once its foundations have been well established, and the structure of Judaism stands like an unshakable mountain, it is able to weather any unwelcome influence from without, and is capable of absorbing all forms of genuine human wisdom when this will add to a deeper understanding of Judaism and grant the Jew a greater commitment towards the Jewish Tradition. Judaism has never been afraid to confront human wisdom and always proudly responded to attacks on its tradition. If it would be afraid, it would admit to its own weakness. Attacks by Spinoza, Hegel or Nietzsche have not shaken its foundations and its fundamental beliefs.
Careful study of the famous work Chovot HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart) by Rabbi Bahya ben Joseph Ibn Paquda, written in the 11th century, proves beyond doubt that the author made use of Islamic mystical concepts.
When Rabbi Mendl of Satenav wrote his famous book on character improvement called Cheshbon HaNefesh (Taking Stock of the Soul), it was praised by the greatest rabbinical luminaries of the time. It is, however, certain that the book was based on the works of Benjamin Franklin, the famous eighteenth century gentile inventor, statesman and author. In his books, he suggested the daily cultivation of 13 virtues and it is clear that these found their way into Cheshbon HaNefesh by Rabbi Mendl of Satenav.
When Rabbi E.E. Dessler, author of the classic work Michtav MeEliyahu, was told that some of his observations appeared to be similar to those of Dale Carnegie in How to win Friends and Influence People, he responded: �They are not similar, they are taken from there.�
Throughout Jewish history, great sages have used the wisdom of non-Jewish thinkers and scientists to explain and expand on Jewish concepts. Clearly, they were not afraid to do so and were convinced that God had sent knowledge via these non-Jewish scholars to help mankind advance itself and to aid the Jewish Tradition. (See also the works of Rabbi Avraham Yitschak Kook, especially his Orot HaKodesh, where he approves of this approach.)
This, however, was only possible after Judaism became well established. When Jews celebrate and reenact the beginnings of Judaism at Pesach time, they are reminded that one first needs to solidify its foundations. Once that is accomplished, one is allowed throughout the rest of the year to absorb ingredients from outside.
One can clearly see this in the case of the Nazir. Only after he has completed his period of solidification of his commitment toward Judaism is he allowed to offer food that is cooked. First, he needs to put his Judaism once more on a strong base and �roast� his spiritual diet. After that, he will have the strength and capacity to assimilate his spiritual condition with other ingredients.
In these difficult days in the history of the State of Israel, Israelis will have to learn this lesson. To believe that secular culture will provide the answers to Israel�s problems is a fatal mistake. Now that Israel is in need of great strength and solidarity, it must, first of all put its Jewish ideological foundations in order. (This should include a fresh and creative approach to Judaism) Only later in time will it be secure enough to allow foreign cultural elements to integrate into its strong tradition. Only then will they be of serious help. If anything, Israel needs to export its own spiritual values to the gentile world. Were it to do so, it would command great respect in the eyes of the nations of the world – and rediscover its own self-respect.