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Parshas Reeh

Blessings: Teaching Appreciation

When God, your God, will broaden your boundary as He spoke to you, and you say, “I will eat meat,” for it is the desire of your soul to eat meat, as all the desire of your soul you may eat meat. (Devarim 12:20)

One of the advantages, I have found over the years, of writing a weekly parshah sheet is that it forces you to pay attention to the passage of time. Just about every time I sit down to write next week’s sheet, I am astounded by how fast we got that far in the Chumash already.

The flow of time is an interesting topic, especially at this late stage of history. Unlike our relatives from a hundred years ago, we live in the age of fast and faster. Living in the fast lane used to be, mostly, a metaphor. Today it is the reality of almost everyone in the civilized world.

Take the idea of fast food, for example. Even though we are told by doctors not to eat our food quickly because eating too fast is bad for digestion, the modern world has created an entire culture around the idea of doing exactly that. You can even drive up, place your order, and within minutes receive it, and within minutes after that, have eaten it.

Intuitively, that doesn’t seem so healthy. I have yet to come across gourmet fast food, not because it can’t be done, but because somehow, the experience seems antithetical to the whole idea of eating gourmet cuisine. Eating gourmet is meant to be a celebration of the human eating experience, not a degradation of it.

Admittedly, fast food has its place in Western culture. The problem is that, like with respect to anything that can quickly, and even inexpensively, satisfy a primal urge, it is subject to abuse, by the customer, then the vendor (not to mention Marketing and Advertising), and then by the government itself. Like liquor and tobacco, the fast food industry is a great and irresistible source of tax income.

When it comes to pizza, that may not be so bad. It’s not so good either, since most of the ingredients also exist as a function of miracles that get completely overlooked when food is consumed at the speed of bite. It is hard to remember the lesson of blessing God b’chayn, b’chesed, u’v’rachamim.

The words translate as, “with grace, with kindness, and with mercy,” as if to say, God not only feeds us, He does so with mercy, kindness, and grace. Is this just poetry, or is there is a deep and profound message here?

Does the fact that God created us mean that He must sustain us as well? Not at all. The uncomfortable fact is that, had God created man and then said “Good-bye,” leaving us to die from starvation, there would be nothing wrong that.

Well, at least nothing morally wrong with it; we certainly would not like to die from starvation, or even the pain of doing so. But, if that is what God deemed was for the greater good, then it would be the greater good, as it has been, apparently, during periods of history, and we’d have nothing to argue about.

However, God does feed us. We need the food and He provides it—an act of mercy—since without His help, we would not find an alternative.

“I have given you food,” He could tell us, before adding that it can only be found close to the North Pole, and under two feet of solid ice. It would be accessible, but only with great difficulty, and some might even die before getting to it. He didn’t do that, but instead He made the food more readily accessible, even local, a chesed, since our lives don’t necessarily depend upon this, though they benefit from this kindness.

What is the chayn in all of this? As mentioned, chayn usually translates as ‘grace,’ so this would mean God not only has had mercy on us, not only has He done us a big chesed, but He has even been gracious. In what way?

He could have said to us, “Not to worry. Your food is just outside. Oh, and don’t worry about the way it looks (black), or how it tastes (like hot tar). The main thing is that it will sustain you and you don’t have to go far to find it or work hard to make it.”

However, with the exception of some brutal times in history when we have been forced to eat whatever we could in order to survive, eating has been an awesome experience. Something as simple as an orange is cheerfully orange and beautifully symmetrical. If you peel it, juice does not come pouring out all over your clothes, but the pieces come individually wrapped. If you don’t want to eat them all at once, you don’t have to.

And that’s just an orange. There are other far more exotic fruits to eat in this world, and what the food we farm can be turned into in the end, such as tantalizing gourmet experiences, is another chapter altogether. God has definitely been gracious to mankind across the board, but one place where it really shows up is in the food department.

Meat, for example, is another story. A cow is a living being, and though its intelligence level is far below that of people, still, its flesh cannot be eaten without taking the life of the animal first, at least halachically. Pardon the pun, but to wolf down a hamburger or anything else that is the product of a death, is to ignore the fact that one has been made in the image of God. Thus, Rashi explains in this week’s parshah:

When God, your God, will broaden your boundary as He spoke to you, and you say, “I will eat meat,” for it is the desire of your soul to eat meat, as all the desire of your soul you may eat meat. (Devarim 12:20)

The Torah has taught proper conduct, that a person should not desire to eat meat except out of broadness of hands and wealth. (Rashi)

You mean only the wealthy get to eat meat? Aside from the fact that oftentimes during history only they could afford meat, this sounds like class discrimination. If a poor person happens to be a guest at the home of a wealthy individual, must he pass up the meat being served because he does not belong to the same tax bracket?

Of course not. The Torah didn’t have to write about something that we all know, that meat, being expensive, is only affordable to people with the means to buy it. After all, there have even been times in history when people could hunt their own meat, rich or poor (provided the animal wasn’t made treif in the process); people without property and much of anything else could still find some meat to enjoy every once in a while.

Then what does the Torah mean, according to Rashi?

It is not a money thing at heart. It’s just that money tends to have a certain impact on our hearts, lifting them, making them feel as if they have cause for celebration. As the Torah says, money gives a person legs to stand on, that is, a certain measure of independence, and therefore, contentment, and it is in this sense of contentment that we are supposed to feel most like God.

It is not the money that creates a sense of contentment; it is the blessing that seems to flow through it. Wealth is but one means to a very specific end, that end being personal satiation, which is why the Rabbis could teach with confidence that a happy person is one who is content with his portion (Pirkei Avos 4:1).

The Talmud speaks of someone who has aniyus ha-da’as, poverty of mind, because that is really where wealth and poverty exist. We all know that there are rich people who are rarely content, and poor people who rarely want. The only reason why we don’t take that lesson seriously is because there seems to be, to us, more rich people who are happy and poor people who are discontent.

Be that as it may, and it may not be as true as we think it is, the lesson is true and can be summed up by the simple fact that we make a blessing before we eat something, and usually one after we eat it as well. To properly connect to God, we have to be like Him (Derech Hashem). To be like Him, we have to feel complete, satiated, and content. To become that way, we have to slow down and appreciate every aspect of every blessing we have in life.

Every blessing a person has is filled with aspects of mercy, kindness, and even grace. The person who takes the time to look for them, and then finds them, is not only going to be a happy person, but a Godly one. It is no small feat, and in the end, it is the goal of life.


Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.


 


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