|Life Lessons: Beyond Choice: To Eat or Not to Eat….|
|Written by The Heileger Chana Chaya|
In the 1980s, I was new to Jewish law. I noticed so many people who obviously could not control their food intake. Yet, they were clearly able to refrain from touching anything that was not kosher… even if they were “starving.” I wondered, How do they do that? And if they could have such great self-control with kashrut, “Why don’t they do that with everything?”
What makes it possible for the overeater, who can’t leave food alone, to stick to the laws of kashrut, no matter how hungry, how lonely, how tired, or how angry -- no matter what?
I have never, since then, seen a person, who was committed to the laws of kashrut, break those laws -- even those who seem not able to stop eating.
I wonder: Is it the Kashrut that keeps us holy, or… is it our holiness that keeps us kosher?
I imagine that, in the eyes of God, how we eat is really important. We know that because the Torah devotes entire chapters (Vayikra, Chapters 7 and 11) to the laws of what God commands us to eat and to what he commands us not to eat. Rishonim (early Jewish scholars) differ on the rationale behind these laws, ranging from the belief that God is the True Physician and knows medically what is good for us (Rambam and Rabbi Aharon Ha-Levi) to the belief that there is no rationale for the laws of kashrut, other than teaching us to live a life of holiness (Rabbi Isaac Amram).
What is the mechanism here that gives us control in this area? Can we bring that control to other parts of our lives? Can we use what we do in order to refrain from eating non-kosher foods to help us to refrain from other things?
My relative, Martha, a”h (not her real name) weighed over 400 pounds. There were not many boundaries that she abided by in her life. Inasmuch as self-control was not in her brain wiring, controlling everyone around her was, or so it seemed. She especially controlled everyone’s plate, regarding what they ate, how much, etc. It was fascinating to watch Martha serve a meal from her hospitable kitchen.
But many years ago, Martha became very ill. My husband and I took a cross-country trip with Martha and her husband. We were bringing her to one of our alternative-medicine teachers to work with us on calming down the cancer cells growing in Martha’s lower body.
First stop was the airport. There, Martha commanded the care and attention of every worker at the terminal where we waited for our plane. She had each worker catering to her, getting her something, wheeling her somewhere, helping her purchase an item from the small airport shops, even discussing their private lives with her. A whole staff was kept busy by this one woman, who told each what to do for her. It was as if they all forgot that anyone else was taking the flight.
As an attendant wheeled Martha to the window to look at the planes landing and taking off, a security person informed us that our carry-on bags had something in them that had to be inspected. He told us that will be denied access to them until they complete their investigation.
Our carry-on luggage held lots of kosher food for the long trip.
Then, we found out that our plane was delayed, as were our carry-ons. We were all getting really hungry in the absence of the good food that we had waiting for us in our suitcases.
We explained our dilemma to the security person who said they were keeping our bags from us. When we told him that we need the kosher food we had prepared for the trip, he pointed to the plentiful non-kosher foods that surrounded us -- food machines, coffee shops, and a restaurant from which we could not avoid the aroma of the food that they were cooking. He couldn’t understand why we don’t just get something from there.
I saw Martha not even glance at that non-kosher food. It was not in her sphere of choice. Here she was, a person who seemed to lack any modicum of self-control, and yet, when it came to separating the holy from the non-holy, in the area of food, Martha did not have an issue or even a challenge. There was no boundary problem. Despite the hunger she must have felt -- despite the hunger we all felt -- there was no question in her mind, or in her body, that any food that is not kosher will not enter her being. Eating Kosher was Beyond Choice.
What makes this possible? It’s clear that those who observe kashrut don’t sense any choice involved in this. It is beyond choice. The level of bechira (free choice) in this case does not allow a kosher person to succumb, even in the face of a treat that is considered delicious, and even inside a very hungry gut.
While being faced with a delicious treat that is kosher may create for that person a sense of powerlessness, at the same time, standing before a non-kosher treat -- even if it seems to be tastier -- is not even a temptation.
What is in a Jew that makes that possible?
I believe it is in the soul. I believe it is from the yearning of the soul for connection to the Almighty. It is the basic holiness deep within us, that inner wisdom that tells us the words of Torah, the restrictions, and the separations. These are like tonic for our mind, body and soul. It’s that inner wisdom that helps the person who normally is out of control to reach inside the spirit for incredible self-control -- self-control that is almost not human.
I have met people who consider themselves to be no longer observant. Yet, they still keep the laws of kashrut, eating only the foods that the Torah allows. I wonder if, in our souls, is the knowledge that eating in a holy way can save ourselves, the awareness that our inner life is better when we eat that way. I wonder if that is why people who seem to be out-of-control in so many areas, are totally controlled in eating only kosher.
We don’t know what credit we get in Heaven for anything that we do. Perhaps the act of separating the kosher from the non-kosher, the holy from the non-holy, can save the soul of a person who may not have done anything else worthy of being saved.
I imagine that it is the Pintele Yid (the Jewish spark) inside us -- that part of our soul that wants to and does connect with the Almighty. Otherwise, how else could a person who cannot stop overeating, refrain from eating anything that is not kosher, even when faced with nothing else to eat?
That is the power of a Jew and the power of kashrut!
Copyright ©Chana Klein 2011