Last night we had minestrone soup for supper. That’s a pretty bold claim for a non-Italian family in New Jersey, but we try our best. This particular recipe called for shaped pasta, and we have an entire cupboard dedicated to that particular starch. In the back of the cubicle my wife found a package of aleph-beth pasta shapes, a novelty for kids, I suppose. Vaguely I recall having purchased it a few years back to try to interest my daughter in learning Hebrew. (It didn’t have that particular result.) Well, pasta is pasta, and just in case it goes bad after the course of a decade, we decided to use it.
As I was spooning some of the soup out, I noticed the letters shin and a final mem in close proximity, bringing to mind ha-shem, “the name.” It then occurred to me that aleph-beth pasta might lead to theological conundrums difficult to swallow. What if one were to end up with a yod, he, waw, and he in the same spoon? Does ineffable also count as inedible? The larger extrapolation then took over; letters are but abstract symbols, only bearing the meaning we decide they bear. Yet extreme devotion is frequently ascribed to certain words in various religious traditions.
Soup is, by its very nature, chaotic. Spellings could be simply accidental. To eat or not to eat? That was the question. The purchase of the pasta had been with the purest of intentions. Never before had a wheat product put me in such a compromising position. As I slurped up ha-shemp (only in abstract form, along with zucchini and a bit of carrot) I reflected how much religion controls human behavior. While we may consider it a system of beliefs, its real-world applications are far reaching. Sacred texts and pasta all at the same time. It must be that another semester is about to commence.