The average person spends at least one hour a day eating. So by the age of 30, you’ve spent the equivalent of two years just putting food in your mouth. How can we make this a more pleasurable, productive and meaningful experience?
Traditional Jewish thought has much to say about what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and even why we eat, and much of it is also recommended by modern scientists.
- Eat Hungry.
When was the last time you pulled over at a gas station to fill up your tank that was already full? Probably never. However, when was the last time you ate something when you weren’t hungry?
Checking your hunger gauge before popping in that random bite will allow you to keep your weight in check as well as build your self-control.
Going to your second event of the evening, already fed, and still have an urge to pop down some more food? Like the modern day nutritionists, King Solomon advises against the unnecessary consumption of food, saying “The righteous eat to satisfy their souls” (Proverbs 13:25).
- Sit Down.
Late to work? Running after the kids? Doing errands? No problem–it’s just not the best time to be chomping down your meal. Although it may save time, it’s a bad idea. The Talmud uses harsh terminology against those who eat while standing. The Rambam, in his magnum opus Mishneh Torah, says that one should never stand or walk while eating.
Modern day scientific research also claims that this kind of eating is fattening and unhealthy. In fact, there is even a diet based on this understanding, called ‘The Sit-Down Diet’, which suggests that we consume fewer calories when we eat sitting down versus while standing up or walking. We are also more likely to digest food better when we sit down and chew our food properly.
You’re hungry and sitting down to your meal, now recognize where the food comes from. Taking three seconds to acknowledge basic details of the culinary dish placed before you can set the tone for rest of the meal. Something as simple as verbally acknowledging the work of the cook, especially if it is a parent or spouse, can have a profound effect on your mood. Paying attention to all of the individual ingredients can make the experience even more tasty.
On a deeper level, every time any food is consumed, Jewish sources tell us one should recite a blessing of recognition prior to taking the first bite. A common misconception is that the blessing or bracha that is said before eating is a form of thanksgiving. This is not accurate; while the after-blessing of Birkat Hamazon clearly mentions the act of thanksgiving, the initial blessing makes no mention of thanks. It is a statement acknowledging that God is the Creator of the food (Blessed are you Hashem … Creator of ….).
- Remove Distractions
Imagine our reaction to someone in a movie theater who is on their phone half of the time. Would we have the same reaction to the ever-so-common sight of someone munching down an entire meal while consumed with an iPhone, TV or computer screen? One cannot fully enjoy a meal while answering emails or scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed.
Unlike many other religions whose ordinances promote abstinence from physical pleasures, Judaism incorporates the pleasure of eating in every one of its holidays. However, we rob ourselves of this enjoyment every time we mindlessly eat.
Don’t care about enjoyment? Distracted eating causes your digestion to be less effective in breaking down your food, leading to less flavor and increasing the possibility of bloating, gas and constipation. Trying to lose weight? Research shows that the more you distract yourself during a meal, the more pounds you add. Doing simple acts of mindfulness, such as paying attention to the smell, taste, appearance and texture of the food, can keep the focus on your meal.
- Chew, Swallow, Wait… Repeat.
Ever mindlessly wolf down a meal in one minute? Scarfing down an entire meal can leave you feeling disheartened, but it can also leave you with unwanted extra fat on your hips.
Taking your body off of autopilot mode while feasting has great spiritual benefits as well. In describing ways of going against animalistic eating habits, the great nineteenth-century Iraqi sage Rabbi Yosef Hayim, in his famous book, Ben Ish Hai, gives a recommendation that is sure to slow your scarf. He writes that one should not reach for the next bite until the previous bite has been completely swallowed.
Speaking from experience, this one tip is much easier said than done. However, once mastered, this habit is sure to leaving you feeling in control and elevated, especially if you take it to the next level and put down your utensil between bites.
Now that you’re satiated and your spirit is recharged, it’s time for some thanksgiving (without the turkey). Saying thanks is much harder when you have somewhere else you want to go. Maybe that’s why the only biblically ordained blessing is the Grace After Meals and not the blessing before the meal (Deuteronomy 8:10).
Being appreciative is a core Jewish value. In fact, Jews are called Yehudim from the word L’hodot, or to thank. Messages of appreciation are found in the stories of our forefathers and foremothers. Gratitude permeates the entire Jewish experience, from the first words that are uttered by our lips when we wake up in the morning, “Modeh Ani”, to the thrice-daily communal prayer service throughout the day.
Surprisingly, recently discovered side benefits of gratitude include improved health, increased self-esteem and even better sleep. Taking the extra minutes to appreciate our privileged satiated stomachs should now seem more meaningful and hopefully a little easier.
Although not practical for every meal, striving towards these goals should help us lead more meaningful, in-control and healthy lives. For what it is worth, I will personally vouch for it!
High Collars, High Holidays
Never in a million years did I think I would be fond of the ‘high collar’, also known as the ‘turtle neck.’ I still cringe everytime I hear the name. I remember my mom making me wear them when it got cold outside… But hello, we live in Los Angeles. When does it get cold?
Dressing already modestly, by covering my knees, elbows (song playing in my head), the thought of covering my full neck is like dude, can I show any skin!? It almost felt like I was covering too much, as if I couldn’t breathe! It is as if someone is choking and restricting my head!
Seeing this trend all over magazines and fashion blogs, I decided to give it another chance! Lo and behold… I fell in love. The choking high collar has NOW become my ultimate favorite thing. Just ask Judith, co-founder of our fashion line RaJu. I keep adding turtle necks to all our styles to the point where we’re almost tired of it. The high collar has a sense of class and elegance to it. It has personality, dimension and is more mysterious. Wearing this dress, with all of its details, print and ruffles, I felt like the high collar tied it all together. The high collar makes you of high end, it’s a luxury, a lifestyle. It forces you to carry yourself in a certain way by maintaining a straighter back and a better posture. Everything manifests differently because of this magical collar.
The high collars forces you to hold your head up high, like a princess. When I see someone wear it, it really adds a beautiful sense of royalty and confidence. As we come into the High Holidays (the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), a solemn time, a time for judgement and reflection, we must remember that we are all daughters and princesses of a king. Wear what you may, during these High Holidays… you know what I’ll be wearing!
Dating for the Least Problematic
We are constantly bombarded with airbrushed images of stunningly attractive superstars, with physical imperfections nowhere to be found. When we watch their love stories on the screen, we cannot help but buy into the absolutely false and irresponsible idea of love-at-first-sight. Additionally, we are led to believe that their made-up relationships are actually filled with marital bliss and that most relationships actually live “happily ever after”. Is it any surprise that when making our list of top priorities, we find it replete with unrealistic and achievable demands of perfection?
To add to our sorrow, we have entered an era where, in its desire to make things faster, more comfortable and more efficient, we have become a self-absorbed society that worships effortless instant gratification. This world that we now live in frustrates us when it takes more than one minute to perfectly heat up our food, or more than one second to load a Google search listing over a million pages that discuss the exact topic we are interested in finding.
With these realities combined we have a recipe for a dating disaster, fueling a dating scene that leaves many feeling unfulfilled. Consciously or subconsciously, many believe that not only will they find their perfect match, but life will also be effortlessly perfect once they’re married.
When we take a practical look at reality, we all know that no one is actually perfect. With this recognition, we have two ways of approaching our search for a marriage partner.
The first possibility is to constantly focus on finding someone as close to perfect as possible. Unfortunately, as any marriage will attest, we quickly find that our spouse is not as close to perfect as we thought, and strong feeling of resentment and disillusionment usually sets into the relationship. In an effort to keep the marriage intact we are forced to compromise that feeling of perfection that we foolishly first sought after.
The second, and suggested, approach is to actively engage in the relationship on a realistic and practical level by constantly reminding ourselves of the cliché, “Nobody’s Perfect” and approach it with an expectation of potential issues. Whether we are currently dating or in a relationship, this reality shift is one that expects tension and struggle, and sees both as potentials for growth. I understand that this is not what we are accustomed to when searching for a match. I also understand this might take the fun romanticism out of the ideal relationships our society falsely portrays. To be very frank, with a ~50% divorce rate, and dismal 60% marital satisfaction rate of those that stay married, our society does not seem to have a positive record on what makes a successful marriage.
Theologically speaking, God does not make mistakes; He obviously made us imperfect for a reason. Traditionally explained, imperfection provides us with opportunities to grow through our differences and make sacrifices in relationships, ultimately strengthening our marriage and elevating us into better human beings. This does not mean that we are to irresponsibly go after the spouse that will cause the most problems; that would be idiotic. All I am advocating is to make the dating and marriage process less difficult and less agonizing, which can be done by changing focus.
Instead of obsessively focusing on finding a match with the best qualities, we should be concentrating on getting the spouse that will cause the least problems. If you think about it, the person with best traits is inherently the one with the least worst traits; in the end you will get the same person. The only question is how will you react and what will you feel when the problems inevitably start to surface.
If we take the first self-centered focus (i.e., going after the most perfect person), when we inevitably realize our spouse’s flaws, we force ourselves to grudgingly make unwanted concessions to what we ultimately desired. Additionally, as time sets in, our partner will start to seem just average, or even below it, compared to the original goals set.
The second mindset (i.e., wanting the spouse with the least problems) allows the partner to expect the harder times inevitably ahead, and be steadfast in dealing with them. Furthermore, when things do go right, it will be viewed as a blessing rather than an expected outcome.
Although I drafted the ideas in this article almost a decade ago, the relationship I have with my own wife has only confirmed the benefits of this approach. Looking back, when I approached an issue with an expectation of bumpiness, it allowed me to deal with my wife in a more calm and collected way. Without the unexpected frustrations of an argument, I was able to focus on how we could work through the issue and better understand my other half. With every potential pitfall behind us, I found our love and affection growing that much stronger. I suggest you try it too!
Extreme Monogamy: Jewish Marriage Ingredient #1
Let me be clear, I am not a Marriage Family Therapist, nor am I a Rabbi. However, I cannot help but feel the benefits of certain Jewish practices and beliefs on my marriage and the marriages of my acquaintances.
The proposition is simple- perhaps even elementary: the more monogamous your relationship, the better. With cheating and jealousy so rampant in our society, the question is obvious: why would people spend many years looking for a spouse, spend exorbitant amounts of money on a wedding, and publicly make vows to be faithful only to end up being intimate with someone else?
You may be thinking, “But wait a minute! What is so bad about multiple partners? Didn’t the Torah promote polygamy? After all, didn’t our forefathers Abraham and Jacob have multiple wives?” Although technically true, a closer look into the lives of our forefathers shows that while the Torah might tolerate polygamy, in no way does it promote it. Abraham only took his second wife when Sarah was desperate to bear a child. Jacob took a second wife because he was tricked into his first marriage, and he also accepted 3rd and 4th wives because, like Sarah, Leah and Rachel stopped having children and they wanted to bring more children under the Abrahamic dynasty. Interestingly enough, the ideal prototypical marriage which we recall under the chuppah, whose matchmaker was none other than God Himself, was a monogamous one, Adam and Eve. Let us also not forget that it was the villain Esav who took multiple wives simultaneously for no apparent reason.
One need not expend much energy to get a feel for the Torah’s approach towards marriage and the focus that must be paid to each partner. Already in the 2nd chapter, the Torah beautifully says, “A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” It seems that not wholly leaving his parents might lessen the potential to fully cling to his new wife and become “one flesh”. More explicitly, Jewish law forbids partners to even think about someone else during intercourse. Even more extreme, if done with an affectionate intention, simply smelling the perfume, shaking the hand, or gazing at the beauty of another person’s spouse can be considered adulterous.
This is a far cry from the society today, where the promotion of adultery has literally become a multi-million dollar industry, with websites dedicated to facilitating these immoral rendezvous. A recent MSNBC poll found that, “About one in five adults in monogamous relationships, or 22 percent, have cheated on their current partner. “ On a more local level, one hears stories of married shop owners sleeping with their workers by day and ‘happily’ coming home for Shabbat family dinner in the evening, seemingly unphased by their actions. Likely speaking, these interactions in our community are not the norm and hopefully still on the fringe. What is not so obvious is the effect of these behaviors on our collective cultural consciousness. With the constant barrage of news about unfaithful movie stars, political leaders, and unfortunately, our own community members, is it possible to remain psychologically unaffected? I don’t think it would be far-fetched to say that extra-marital attention is becoming more tolerable.
How can our relationships succeed if our attention is diverted in so many ways towards others? Of course, there may be multiple reasons for couples drifting apart. But one thing is for sure, we must do everything in our power to keep our sexual attention inside the marriage rather than outside. Like anything important to us, we need to have proper boundaries to help us not even come close to such feelings, boundaries I would like call ‘Extremely Monogamous’. Even if our relationships are not drifting apart, perhaps some well measured boundaries will even enhance our marriages by constantly reminding us of who we should be spending our focus and attention on.
Although every relationship is different, I propose some open ended, perhaps uncomfortable, questions to ask oneself:
What are we actively doing to make our marriage more special and exciting?
Would we be speaking so friendly with that person’s spouse if they were not as attractive?
What are we watching when our spouses are not around?
Are we comparing our spouse to others?
There is no doubt that some might discount the points and feeling mentioned as being outdated, prude and unattainable. Although not easy, such devotion is attainable. Our marriages should be our priority, and our sexual attention should solely be focused on our spouses. Think it is impossible in today’s society? We have such devotion during the wedding night, why can’t we have it ‘till death do us part’? Our marriage’s are deserving of it. Let’s move towards truly cleaving to our spouses other and becoming one flesh, a charge that our Holy Torah demands of our marriages.
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