Food Glorious Food

Hope everyone had a great week.

This week’s parshah is Eikev and, as always, there’s a lot of things in there.  But there’s one verse about how we should handle food and God, so I started thinking about food and I started thinking about being the food-giver.

When I had my first baby, I decided I would nurse her, I mean how hard could it be?  It was always ready to go and I had images of a long line of women before me – I was ready to be nature woman!  I was also a student and nursing was free.

Then my daughter had her first meal and the red streaks of pain that flashed across my eyes was indescribable. I let out a loud yelp and literally saw stars.   Back in my day, women admitted that labour was painful but we told each other it was a ‘good’ pain. I’ve had five children and by my fifth labour I asked the nurse if I could have an epidural ‘to go’ for when I got home.  I’ve concluded there’s no such thing as good pain. Whether a woman births through natural or surgical means, it will be scary and it will hurt. But in spite of being told about the good pain of labour, no one, and I mean no one, told me nursing would hurt so much.

Ironically, the only thing that solves the pain of nursing is (wait for it) to nurse some more.  Add to the mix that while you’re dealing with all of this pain, the baby is hungry and not understanding any of the explanations you are tearfully putting forth, so you just have a screaming infant in your arms.

You are the food-giver and the receiver is screaming, demanding and anything but understanding or grateful.  At the end of the day, after baby has been fed, you hope for that final statement of thank you that will come in the form of a burp.  

For 40 years in the desert, we were the infant, God was the food-giver and we complained and cried and kvetched about food constantly.  The number 40 is not random in the Torah. It is used with Noah and the ark, it is used with Moses on Mount Sinai and it is used with Israel in the desert.  It is also the total number of weeks of gestation. It takes 40 weeks to birth something new. The new world in Noah’s time, the new law from Sinai and the new nation that will enter Israel.

So we hungered in the desert and we demanded and screamed that God nurse us – hardly the portrait of a spiritual and holy interaction.  But the focus isn’t on what we do when we’re hungry, it’s what we do when we’re full.

When I’m hungry, I’ll probably agree to almost anything you want me to do.  My mother taught me that if I wanted the food on the table I would help set the table.  If she asked me to make salad, I would. I would get a bottle of pop from the basement and I would call everyone to the table – without shouting ‘Dinner’s ready’ – she made me do it again if I shouted.  I would have combed out her beehive hairdo then and there – anything to get dinner on the table. 

But once I ate, my inclination would be to run from the table with no more than a ‘howdy do’ to anyone.  If I got to the den first then I could choose what TV show to watch, since family viewing was a ‘first come first choose’ proposition.  My parents taught us that we had to ask to be excused from the table to stop the mad bolt to the TV. In other words, once my stomach was full I was no longer the sweet, giving and obedient little elf.

So it’s clearly not what we do when we’re hungry, it’s what we do when we’re full.  This week’s parshah says: ‘you will eat, you will be satisfied and then you will bless God.’  That’s why we say Birkhat Hamazon after we eat. We experience what it means to have the food warm us from the inside and we thank the Food-Giver.  We aren’t babies anymore, it’s not coming to us and we’re not doing it so that we’ll get the food. We learn not to bolt from the table but that food either builds relationships or keeps us behaving as animals demanding and taking – it’s our choice.

I ended up nursing all my children and it was a strain and adjustment each time.  Each relationship that developed taught me about my baby – one of my kids couldn’t wait and would try and nurse through my shirt while another one thought biting was funny.  Whether it’s nursing or feeding from a bottle or a can or any of the many ways to provide food, the animal in us will view food as the end goal but the Torah reminds us that food is the medium and the relationship is the end goal.

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