Divre Harav – Summer/2022

Some years ago, I participated in a program with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality which included silent retreats and mindful eating. I enjoyed the experience of sitting with others for a leisurely meal, concentrating only on the food in front of me. I was completely focused on taking a bite of food, enjoying the texture and flavor, chewing and swallowing and taking a breath before choosing the next spoon- or forkful. When I engage in mindful eating, I eat less and enjoy the food more. It is a physically and emotionally healthier experience than my normal experience of eating. Most often, I grab food while checking email or reading the news, squeezing meal time in between other activities or appointments or errands. If I am alone, I might watch a program to distract myself. If I am with others, I might be involved in conversation and not paying attention to the food I am putting in my mouth.

The goal of the retreat experience was not to convince us that we should take meals alone or in silence in order to eat mindfully. Eating should be an experience that brings people together. Rather, the goal was to teach us the skills and habits of mindful eating and learn how to use those skills even when we are eating in communal settings. With practice, I can remind myself to slow down and enjoy both the food and the people around me mindfully.

I’ve been thinking about food because, as you’ll see elsewhere in the Voice, I am focusing a bit of attention this summer on creating opportunities for us to eat, socialize, and learn together, as well as to cook and do mitzvot together. The pandemic years have been difficult in this respect. We’ve gotten out of the habit of sharing food together. Pre-pandemic, our daily minyanim would have breakfast together each week after the service. It was a time to strengthen and deepen relationships. It was how we welcomed new people to the community, over a copy of coffee and a little food.

This summer, I would like to restore opportunities to socialize with each other. We have reestablished a weekly Thursday morning, 7:15 a.m., minyan with breakfast following. I’d like to see us gather for lunch after Shabbat services once a month, have dinner and study Torah together once a month, and cook together to freeze dinners for later delivery to people such as those who have a new baby in the house, who have been ill, or who are new to town. Please consider supporting our Thursday morning minyan and joining me for lunch or dinner this summer.

In addition, please consider joining me in the kitchen to prepare food for one of these events or for delivery. Cooking can also be an enjoyable way to spend time together. Meal planning, shopping, and preparation is another opportunity to engage in a mindful, deliberate activity of choosing healthy food. Let’s embrace the opportunity to do mitzvot together, to nourish the community and ourselves with food and Torah and prayer and Shabbat. I’m looking forward to spending time with you!

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.

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.