I see a candy bar on the shelf by the drugstore register and I have an impulse to pick it up and casually hand it to the woman behind the counter along with the toothpaste and shampoo I actually intended to buy when I walked into the store. Somehow, this time, I stop myself from reaching out my hand to pick up the candy. I remind myself that thirty seconds after eating that candy bar, I would feel no more satisfied than thirty seconds before.
And, yes, there are also times that I don't stop myself.
This week's Torah reading includes rules for eating — what animals may be eaten and which may not. Since I am a vegetarian, these rules don't have much practical impact on me. I don't eat the permitted animals, let alone the forbidden ones, so I have to find another meaning for this text. To me, it's all about making eating a spiritual practice.
We are hard-wired to crave certain foods. We are, in part, still the creatures we were when we had to get our food by hunting and gathering. Like those ancestors, we seek out sweetness — the sugars in a ripe piece of fruit — as a source of quick energy. Only now, in the modern world, sweetness is no rarity; it is all around us in choices that our primeval ancestors never could have enjoyed. Nowadays, if we were to indulge at every opportunity in the foods that we crave, we would destroy ourselves. Of course, many people do just that.
And our unhealthy cravings are not limited to food, either.
The laws of kashrut are not just an exercise in maintaining ancient dietary practices or of blindly obeying God's commands. Kashrut is a practice in making wise choices and protecting ourselves from self-destructive impulses. By forcing us to think about our food, Kashrut teaches us to take care of ourselves and to act courageously in the pursuit of our own happiness.
That is a holy task. When we act thoughtfully and mindfully about how we treat ourselves, we add sanctity to our lives. By thinking about our choices — not just acting on impulse — we raise ourselves up beyond our animal selves and become creatures capable of reaching toward holiness.
This week, as I take another step on the journey toward Pesach and the time of our liberation, I focus on how I use my freedom to make wise choices that foster my happiness, and avoid the pitfalls of turning myself into a slave of my impulses.