We Are How We Eat
I was recently standing in the checkout line of a local convenience store, watching two young people complete their daily nutritional requirements.
As each came to the counter with Slurpees clenched in their fists, they busied their other hands tossing an array of sugar boosted products across the counter. This included a bag of Skittles, a substance resembling chocolate, and a package of turkey jerky.
Their motions were so mechanical and their attitudes so lackadaisical that it occurred to me that neither had any idea of, or connection to, what they were buying. In particular, the purchase of the meat product gave me cause to consider how spiritually removed we've become from the preparation and consumption of the food we eat.
Most of us troll down the aisles of our supermarkets tossing bags, boxes, or packages of food in our cart. They run the range of animal, vegetable, and mineral, yet somehow we've lost the ability to distinguish one from another.
For starters, let us consider that the package of ground beef, chicken breasts, or turkey jerky was once associated with a live animal.
This animal at one point walked, breathed, interacted with other creatures, and likely bled before dying. Yet by the time they fall into the mesh of our shopping cart, or land on the checkout counter, we have lost all connection with their sacred nature.
But this week's Torah portion from the Book of Deuteronomy, titled Ekev (On the heels of), reminds us that food is not a right, but rather a privilege.
In ancient times, if cultures did not pay attention to the earth-if they did not maintain the soil, or if the elements did not cooperate-populations would face starvation or be forced to migrate. If crops failed, nations lacked the capacity to import fruit or vegetables from Chile or California.
This week's Torah portion provides us with a guideline-not only to honor what we eat, but to recognize and praise the road each item pursued before it entered our domain.
Within Judaism, at a typical meal, there is a prayer for bread, one for fruit, another for dessert, and the main course, and another for the wine we occasionally enjoy with our food.
The bread we savor comes to us through the farmer, the reaper, the baker, the wrapper, the trucker, the supermarket stocker, the clerk, the bagger and, ultimately, those who serve it in our homes.
This week's Torah reading also reminds us to thank God after we finish eating. Notes the Torah, "You have had your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which God has given you." This had led to a fixed series of "thank you's" at the completion of a meal which is called Birkhat HaMazon (Blessing over nourishment).
We live in such a rushed world. Those of a new generation often pay more attention at the dinner table to text messages than they do thanking a parent or other who prepared the meal.
But this week we are reminded how lucky we are to have food at our fingertips, and to live in a country where sustenance is so readily available. It reminds us to give thanks both before and after the meal-and perhaps most of all to thank the hands that brought it to our table.
We often forget how wondrous this earth us, and how amazing it is that God's creation enables us to produce so much.
This week, as we study our weekly Torah portion, let us be inspired to stop for a moment and reflect on the earth's beauty and its ability to produce for everyone.
The Torah also reminds us to feed the disadvantaged with an underlying message that there is enough for everyone if indeed we have the courage to share.
It is therefore so important that we acknowledge the food we so easily and readily receive.
Blessings sensitize us to the world around us, and perhaps even to our own vulnerability.
For not only should we take the time to enjoy the food we eat, but also take the time to bless it, before and after it enters our mouths.
The Torah reminds us this week that blessings are so powerful. For in the words of this week's portion, "man does not live on bread alone."
Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv (with all goodness)
Rabbi Irwin Huberman