Psalm 127

“Eaters of the bread of anxiety …” (127:2)

Without a doubt, it is true that sometimes things go horribly wrong. Most of the time, however, things sorts themselves out and come out right in the end. People who suffer from unreasonable anxiety, however, obsessively search out and find reasons to be anxious, they consume anxiety the way a person with an eating disorder consumes calories. The solution to calm nervousness and panic is generally not self-control alone. Patterns of behavior, when eating disorders or panic disorders, at the very least require the hard work of unlearning deeply rooted patterns of behavior.

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Psalm 107

“Some lost their way in the wilderness.” (107:4)

We get lost a little at a time. Addictions begin with legal prescription painkillers, social drinking that’s “under control,” or just a late night snack while watching TV. But the stress of navigating the politics of the workplace, raising a family without much support from a spouse, or finding one’s way through the mysteries of middle school social relationships puts intense pressure on the weak points in our psyche. If we are inclined towards addictive behaviors, stress will encourage us to eat to feel better, drink to fit in, sample street drugs to forget or to feel better. Little by little, we get lost in the wilderness. Remember — there’s no shame in asking for help finding the way out.

Psalm 78

“They ate till they were sated.” (78:29)

A weight loss diet should be simple. We ought to eat until we are satisfied and then stop. For the vast majority of us, our bodies tell us when we have eaten enough. Our problem is that we are not listening. Or we don’t want to listen, because the stimulation of taste, smell, and texture gives us so much pleasure that we shut down the internal voice yelling ‘Stop!’ and take another bite, another helping, and more dessert. The solution is simple and infinitely difficult. Practice active listening, both external, to loved ones, friends, and co-workers, and internal, to your own body.

Psalm 14

“Those who devour my people [as] they devour bread.” (14:4)

One can choose to eat mindfully and treat people mindfully as well. Part of healthy eating is to pay attention to the experience, the flavor and the texture of the food, while monitoring your body’s response to it. Eat foods that energize your body in positive ways and stop eating when you have had enough. Don’t use food to compensate for something you are missing from your life. Similarly, enjoy the uniqueness of each person you encounter over the course of your day. Don’t treat them as a means to your own selfish ends. The clerk serving your needs is deserving of as much human dignity from you as you expect from him or her.

Psalm 81

God feeds them the finest wheat, “I will satisfy you with honey from the rock.” (81:17)

The Me’or Eynayim, Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (c. 1739 – 1797, Ukraine) teaches that any food we eat comes to us by means of the Shekhina, the Divine Presence, garbed in various proximate causes (from a translation by Rabbi Jonathan Slater, Institute for Jewish Spirituality). In other words, we might buy the food at a restaurant, we might buy it at the supermarket and prepare it for ourselves, it might be served at a meeting, we might receive it in the form of a restaurant gift card, we might eat it at Kiddush, we might receive it from a food pantry. No matter what the food, from the richest, most elaborately prepared gourmet meal to the simplest microwave ready entree, it is God who is feeding us.

We might dream, with the Psalmist, of the finest food, but the Me’or Eynayim cautions, “Our sages teach that eating is a time of battle, that we must fight the yetzer hara, the selfish inclination, when we eat, especially when we are eating something we enjoy.”

Typically, I am not a mindful eater. My yetzer urges me to eat more and more, faster and faster, as if this might be my last chance to eat for a very long time! For several years, each time I would see my doctor for an annual physical he would note that I weighed a pound or so more than the previous year. A pound is not much, but over 20 years it would add up.

On rare occasions when I am relaxed and totally focused on the food and not distracted, I slow down and really think about what I am eating. I taste the food and feel the energy contained within it being broken down and absorbed by my body. For the past few years I have been working on being more mindful with both my eating and my physical activity. At my yearly visit with my doctor my weight has been stable or even a pound or so less than the previous year.

I love eating a fresh baked hearty roll and a slice of delicious honey cake, but the Me’or Eynayim’s lesson is to be equally satisfied with a simple peanut butter sandwich on plain bread. Remember, the Shekhina is equally found in all types of food.