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Home » Food, Free Choice, Shmini

Shemini: Freedom to Eat

Submitted by on April 11, 2007 – 7:31 pmNo Comment | 15,714 views

The Buffet Dilemma

You are standing in front of a heaping buffet bursting with mouth watering delicacies. Your appetite is stimulated and your juices are flowing. The host grants you the freedom to indulge to your heart’s delight.
Stop for a moment. Are you really free? With your plate piled high and your appetite running into overdrive, you take your first bite. There is nothing like it. But, the second bite isn’t quite so pleasurable. The third bite is even less of a thrill and its all downhill from there.
Standing in front of the buffet, imagine the next morning. You can’t fit into your clothing, You feel swollen and cramped and you berate yourself for eating too much. So let us repeat the question: Are you really free? Have you no one to answer to? You do have a master and that master is yourself.


When I was on a diet I trained myself to eschew the crass temptations of Bagels and Lox. On Sunday morning, the entire congregation would tear into their breakfast with relish. I would sip my water and pick at my apple. They all regarded me with pity, only I knew better. It was I, who pitied them.
When they looked at their plate they saw a culinary delight. When I looked at the bagels I saw a gluttonous nightmare that I would have to pay for in spades. They walked away with satisfied smiles, I walked away with a sense of achievement. I had made a lasting contribution to my health and to my waistline. Three hours later, I was out jogging and they were nursing stomach cramps.freedom- innerstream
In retrospect, who was really free that morning? I find it amusing that when tempted by a second helping we often allow ourselves the freedom of indulgence. Are we offering ourselves freedom or bondage? Are we free to indulge or free of indulgence. Which is more rewarding? Who is more free?

The Paradox

It is human nature and it is evidenced in all areas of life. A corporate executive is a slave to his desk, telephone, blackberry and, of course, clients. Every day is a pressure cooker and he craves vacation. He finally breaks with routine and flies out to a remote island to relax. He lies on the beach and wiggles his toes for a couple of days and suddenly, he can’t stand the boredom. He wants his office back.
The phenomenon is even more complex. The high powered corporate executive is jealous of the simple island dweller who lives in quiet serenity. Yet the Island dweller would like nothing better then to abandon his island and move to the city where he might become an important corporate executive!
The executive can’t wait to get out onto the island to taste the life of freedom. The Island dweller, who feels chained to the island, can’t wait to get off the Island and taste the freedom of the city. Who is right? Where does true freedom lie?


President Richard Nixon once observed that many people yearn for the luxuries that are readily available to the wealthy. They want the freedom to golf, patronize expensive restaurants, attend the theater and travel the world. This dream is meaningful to almost everyone, with one exception, those, who have already obtained it. To them it is meaningless.
They have discovered that meaning cannot be found in comfort or luxury. Meaning can only be found in purpose. To live a purposeful life and to make a difference is meaningful. Yet, when the wealthy grow poor and are forced to give up the luxuries to which they have grown accustomed, they pine for their former luxuries. They, who have discovered true meaning, pine for creature comforts. Why?
Those granted luxury pine for purpose Those blessed with purpose pine for luxury. Which is correct?

Duality of Life

Life is a duel between our surface and inner dimensions. On the surface we seek instant gratification, be it food, luxury or freedom we are dissatisfied unless we achieve our tactile and immediate goals. But once we achieve them a deeper dissatisfaction settles in. It is the dissatisfaction of the soul. The soul is not appeased by transient gratification, the soul seeks meaning.
The life-long quest for meaning leads us to demand much from ourselves for true meaning cannot be achieved without sacrifice. Yet, in sacrifice we lose some of our surface gratification and dissatisfaction sets in all over again. So the cycle continues.
We cannot invest in one end without divesting from the other. Balance cannot be found in shifting loyalties that drive us unmercifully to and fro. Are we meant to hover between the two extremes, tempted to land in either, but forever trapped in the futile center? Is harmony possible?


Rather than viewing the inner and surface dimensions as polar extremes, Judaism views them as alternate sides of the same spectrum. A life of purpose might be lived selfishly and a life of indulgence might be lived purposefully. The key is not to look at what we do, as much as, why we do it.
Our quest for meaning leads in many directions. It is often translated as making a contribution. It is also translated as being needed by someone. Sometimes it is said that purpose in life is achieved through leaving our mark on the world after we have departed it.
From a religious stand point, the highest calling of purpose is to leave the creator’s imprint upon his creation. In this way we not only leave our own mark, but that of G-d. G-d’s mark is imprinted when we interact with the world around us and engage in its pleasures, but on G-d’s  terms. In accordance with his wishes.
The kosher dietary laws distinguish the foods we may eat from the foods we may not. This diet enables us to serve G-d and endow our lives with meaning even as we enjoy its delicacies. We are not forced to choose between purpose and satisfaction, we can incorporate both at once. The purposeful executive can allow himself satisfaction and the satisfied island dweller can find purpose.
We choose the dishes that we like to eat, but ascertain they are kosher because G-d likes it that way. We go on vacation to serve ourselves, but choose our location in accordance with how and where G-d’s wishes are best served. We thus endow our surface dimension with inner meaning.
We could choose to serve only ourselves and eat to our heart’s content, but life would lose all meaning. We could choose to forgo all foods and serve only G-d, but that wouldn’t be satisfying. The key is to remember that we serve G-d through eating as well as we do through abstaining. At work and on vacation, both the corporate executive and the island dweller, find purpose and satisfaction.
Do you restrict yourself to the Kosher diet?
A better question to ask, do you liberate yourself through the Kosher diet?

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