When I was pregnant, all I wanted to eat was French fries, soft serve ice cream, pizza, and peanut butter. Literally, all the time. Of course the choice was mine. I could eat those amazingly craveable foods and satisfy the urge, but I would probably gain an obscene amount of weight during the pregnancy. Or I could really listen to what my body needed in those moments and continue to maintain my mostly healthy lifestyle, perhaps satisfying the cravings in moderation. Usually, I ended up compromising somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to win when it comes to cravings. Even now that I’m not pregnant anymore, I’m constantly trying to find the middle ground between what my body needs and what my brain tells me I want.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received on my journey in pursuit of daily health and fitness is to listen to your body, to know what your body needs. If you’re bruising a lot, you might need iron; if you’re chronically tired, try reducing the carbs. As you might presume, conscious eating isn’t a new medical theory. In fact, the idea of being conscious about our cravings and what we put into our bodies started as early as our Torah.
We read parshat Re’eh this week as the Torah races to the finish line of its lessons for us. In our parshah we learn about the blessings and curses that will come with observance (or lack thereof) of the mitzvot we’re given. We receive some final warnings about following the laws against idolatry, laws for keeping kosher, and the importance of treating each other as equals. Finally, we receive some more information on our three pilgrimage festivals.
Within the laws about kashrut (Jewish ethical and spiritual eating) we begin to engage in the conversation about how and what we’re supposed to eat. As the text details the laws of ethical slaughter, the Torah very clearly describes in chapter 12, verse 20 that when someone has the urge to eat meat, he may, as long as time and care are taken to obtain that meat. This is the difference, according to renowned Torah scholar Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, between human beings and animals. Rabbi Kook suggests that an animal does not have the mental capacity to weigh urges and instincts against careful thought. Human beings, on the other hand, take into account ethical, rational, and thoughtful behavior.
Of course in the past century, science has been able to uncover much more about the way animals act, respond, and communicate. However, the Torah still commands us to employ thoughtful consideration before eating and to obey rules like not eating the blood of animals, pausing to offer blessing, and choosing certain foods over others. Beyond kashrut, our parshah this week reminds us that eating right, like other aspects of our lives, is about balancing urges with intelligence to make decisions that are right for us.