It says in the Talmud, “A person may not derive pleasure from this world without reciting a berachah (blessing).” This is because in truth, food does not belong to man; it belongs to the Creator—can human beings actually create food? The Talmud continues:
Anyone who derives pleasure from this world without making a berachah, it is as if he is stealing from G-d [as he does not have permission to enjoy anything belonging to the Creator without a berachah] and the congregation of Israel [as eating without a berachah prevents the good abundance from flowing down to the people].
The holy Zohar adds that anyone who fails to recite a blessing inhibits the upper spiritual realms from receiving the holy abundance that is due to them through these blessings. It also says that each food has a spiritual spark that perpetuates its existence, and when a person eats a certain food, the body receives the physical element of the food while the soul receives its spiritual component. So when a Jew eats nonkosher food, G-d forbid, he is essentially feeding his soul an unsuitable, defected spiritual spark and thereby soils it. This is also signified in the soul’s loss of spiritual sensitivity.
The soul of a Jew is structured differently than the nefesh of a gentile. The former is composed of 613 components that correspond to the 613 parts of the body. This is why he received 613 mitzvot. The nefesh of a gentile, on the other hand, is made up of 7 sections corresponding to the 7 main parts of the body. This is why he only received 7 mitzvot. A gentile who eats pork, for example, will not harm his nefesh, while a Jew who eats something that’s forbidden will contaminate his delicate and intricate soul. Since a Jew was given more responsibilities in this world, the reward in his eternal life is paid in accordance. It so happens that eating has a significant spiritual effect on a person. (The food itself is also spiritually elevated when eaten, as it goes from either a plant or animal to the level of a speaking being, as the Ramak writes in Tomer Devorah).
When a person makes a blessing on kosher food, the blessing begins to sanctify the food and elevates its essence to a higher level. This benefits the soul as well as the body.
Recent studies have found that in contrast to regular water, water that’s been exposed to blessings is superior in quality, and significantly accelerates the growth of the seeds it cultivates. If this is true for seeds, it is certainly true for the human body, as it can gain more benefit from water that is glorified than from ordinary water. This concept is true with regard to any food. According to Judaism, we know that speech has the power to affect physical reality and transform it in either a negative or positive way. Even inanimate objects can be positively influenced by blessings, words of Torah, or any positive words that are spoken in their vicinity. After all, speech contains a great deal of power, and the mouth resembles a powerful transmitter with the ability to affect the physical reality.
By means of a simple blessing before eating, a person benefits from eating food that’s not only kosher, but also spiritually elevated, refined, and healthy. The more intention the person has while reciting the words of the blessing, the more effective it becomes. The power of the mind infuses a life force into the words, just as the soul infuses a life force into the body.
If the food a person is eating happens to contain a reincarnated soul, he can rectify that soul by making a blessing over the food. By doing so his reward is multiplied, as he has extended his kindness to the person whose soul was reincarnated by correcting it in the proper way and saving him from a prolonged state of reincarnation inside a plant or an animal.
Reincarnations in Plants and Animals
The following are the words of Maharchu in Shaar HaGilgulim:
After a person passes away, he must pay for all the sins that he has not repented for with all kinds of punishments before he enters Gehinnom. They are referred to as gilgulim (reincarnations). This means that he will be reincarnated either into an inanimate object, a plant, an animal, or a human.
There are certain sins that cause a part of man’s soul to descend to the inanimate level, others to the plant level, and yet others to animals (nonspeaking living beings). Therefore, some sins that an evil man may commit in his lifetime will reincarnate him into a rock, some into a plant, and others into a living creature because as it says, man who sins is “likened to the silenced animals” and is equated to them.
He later adds:
The concept of being reincarnated into the inanimate or a plant is alluded to in the verse “For a stone will cry out from the wall and a sliver will answer it from the beams.” This implies that there are reincarnated souls inside brick walls, which are inanimate and wooden beams, which come from the world of vegetation. And from there they scream out because of all the punishments they must endure.
In Minchat Yehudah, the famous Kabbalist Rabbi Yehudah Ptaya, zt”l, attests to a conversation he conducted with a dibbuk (a possessing spirit) that told him about his current suffering and his previous lives. This is what he recounts:
And since I’ve committed many sins, I was sentenced to reincarnation as an inanimate object, a plant, an animal, and a human. And one time, when I had been reincarnated inside a pomegranate, an old pious man named Shimon bought it and ate it as part of his Shabbat feast, reciting the blessings of Bore Pri Ha’etz and Shehechiyanu. And through this I was corrected. Later, I was reincarnated in the city of Izmir into a man named Chaim.
Rabbi Ptaya explains that even though after being reincarnated into a plant the spirit had only one more level to go through (the animal level), he didn’t need to do so because the old man, Shimon, had saved him from this stage and elevated him to a level through which he could be directly transmuted into a speaking being.
The dibbuk went on to tell the people who were present whose soul is reincarnated inside the meat that was served, and whose soul was inside the piece of fruit that was there, and who was contained inside the bird sitting on the branch. He asked one person to recite a blessing over one of the foods, while the rest of the people would answer amen and correct the reincarnated souls.
Blessings also teach kids and adults alike to control their urges and defer gratification. A person may have strong desires and be extremely hungry for the food before him, yet he holds himself back, saying, “First I’ll recite the blessing and then I’ll eat.” By reciting a blessing he also learns to show gratitude for the One who provides for him. When he concludes his meal, he doesn’t just run off to his affairs, he first blesses the One who created the food and thanks Him for the satisfying meal. As it says, “You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-d.”
Having the Proper Intention when Eating
It says in the Talmud, “In a meal which you enjoy, do not indulge too freely.” Rabbi Shimshon Pincus points out that this does not imply that you should avoid the meal, as it does not say “Do not indulge in it,” nor does it say “You must avoid it,” rather, it says “Control yourself”; stop for a moment before you eat. Do not raid the food you see with too much excitement, rather, reflect first upon the purpose of eating; is it to bring pleasure to the body, or to provide the body with energy and sustenance so it can attain a degree of spiritual perfection when serving the Creator?
Food was created in an appetizing and beautiful way for two reasons: 1. G-d extended His kindness by making food pleasant for us to eat, unlike a car that receives its fuel without feeling any pleasure. For this we recite a blessing right at the beginning of the Grace after Meals—that the Creator sustains the world “with grace, kindness, and mercy,” though the pleasure itself is not the purpose of eating. 2. The feeling of pleasure while eating allows a person to withstand the thoughts of gluttony and helps him shape his spiritual character.
Thus, a person should accustom himself to this proper and important mindset until it becomes a real part of him, without having to be continuously conscious of it. A person who merits to reach this will use food as a vehicle toward spiritual elevation and love of G-d, and not, G-d forbid, as a way of drowning in the earthliness of the world.
Notes and Sources
 Berachot 35a.
 Ibid. 35b.
 Zohar Chadash, Rut 67b. For further reading refer to Nefesh HaChaim, gate 2, ch. 4.
 Yoma 39a, “Do not read it as ‘venitmetem’ (and you will become impure) rather, ‘venitamtem’ (you will become spiritually defiled).”
 See The Coming Revolution, “The Effect of Sound Waves on Water,” p. 85.
 Shaar HaGilgulim, introduction 22, p. 21b.
 Chabakuk 2:11.
 Minchat Yehudah, p. 143. The full story is included in The Coming Revolution, “Life after Life,” p. 227.
 Devarim 8:10.
 Gittin 70a.
Adapted from “The keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen