Abundance — blessing or curse?

Abundance — blessing or curse?

Rabbi James Gibson
Rabbi James Gibson

Ekev, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

This week’s portion, Ekev, is beloved for highlighting our connection to the land of Israel.  We learn of the seven species native to the land in Deuteronomy 8.9:  wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey (many scholars believe this is honey from dates, not what we get from bees).

Our portion famously warns us that our enjoyment of the land is contingent upon our following the covenant and the commandments.  Deuteronomy 11:13-21, the second paragraph of the Shema, is quite specific about this.  If we love God and obey the mitzvot, we will receive timely rains and abundant harvests.  If not, well, the text is specific about that, too.

Abundance is what God intends for us.   We read in Deuteronomy 8.9: “You shall eat bread without stinting, you shall lack for nothing.”

In a portion filled with descriptions of food as well as promises of blessing we are forced to ask in our day a simple question:  Is abundance such a blessing for us?  We know that not having enough is a curse.  What about having too much food?

It was reported this week in the news that Americans spend less than 14 percent of their income on food.  In China, the economic superpower nipping at our heels, they spend almost 40 percent.

The results are staggering.  Obesity tops cancer as the most dangerous threat to our health.  After tens of thousands of years of humans scrounging for enough food to survive, we find ourselves in an age where plentiful, clean, rich food can be had by most in our community and nation.

Yes, there are hungry poor among us, we know.  Food stamps and the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank attest to that.  But many of us, frankly, consume more than is good for us, a scenario not envisioned by the parsha.  Kashrut alone is not the issue. It is possible to eat only food that is strictly kosher and still eat too much of it.

The time has come to re-examine our relationship with food and see about possibly limiting what we take in if we have more than enough.  The Sage Rav Chiya is said to have taught:  Do not overindulge in a meal you are enjoying.

A few years ago Mary Zamore and the Union for Reform Judaism issued a wonderful book entitled, “The Sacred Table:  Creating a Jewish Food Ethic.”  This engaging anthology starts with kashrut and extending to social justice concerns, such as sustaining our environment and justice for those who pick and prepare and serve our food.  And it deals with the question that won’t go away:  When is enough too much?

The challenge of abundance could be put another way:  What do you do when Twinkies (they’re coming back) are cheaper than tomatoes and more satisfying?

Yet, the same Torah that demands the discipline of our obedience to mitzvot, asks us to discipline our appetites as well.

The Torah desires that we be satisfied, not bloated.  To eat for life and not for obesity.  To consume for well-being, not disease and diabetes.  For blessing after we are satisfied, not stuffed.  For nourishment of body and spirit.  That’s the blessing that  Torah desires for everyone of us.  Eat wisely and well this Shabbat.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)