23 Av 5772 / August 10-11, 2012
In this week’s portion, Moses continues his speech to the Israelites and emphasizes their potential rewards and punishments for following the commandments.
Moses shares that the Promised Land is one that is flowing with milk and honey (from dates – not bees – a common misconception!), and that “when you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Divine…” [Deuteronomy 8:10]
Our Christian brethren often do a much better job than we do of expressing gratitude around mealtime by saying grace (which is usually done with a bit more reverence than Ricky Bobby’s “Dear Lord Baby Jesus” offering in Talladega Nights). While we have a quick prayer we are meant to say before our meal (if eating bread, we would say the “hamotzi” which is a single line), our major proscribed blessing is made after the meal (“birkat hamazon” – the Grace After Meals), in accordance with the chronology in the verse. Eat your fill, and then give thanks.
Saying our major prayer after eating, as opposed to before, poses some interesting challenges. For example, it’s often easier to be thankful for food while it is still visible and we’re anticipating consumption. We have the ability to inspect the food, smell it, see the vibrancy of its colors, and be grateful for the meal we’re about to partake in. After eating, many of us would be quite content taking a nap, let alone trying to remember the beauty of the meal. Taking the extra few minutes to reflect on the meal we’ve had and to offer our thanks is an appropriate and powerful way to express gratitude.
Why should we be grateful and take the time to express our gratitude?
Because, simply put, there are people in the world who are starving.
According to Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, six million children die of hunger every year. Many more are malnourished. Lest you think hunger is not an issue in the United States, in 2010, almost 15% of U.S. households were food insecure.
The United States has the highest obesity rate in the world, and still has citizens, many of them children, that don’t have enough to eat.
Our ancestors, overwhelmingly living in poverty in Eastern European villages, knew what hunger was. My grandmother, who survived numerous concentration camps, knew what starving was.
Nobody should go hungry.
Children should not need to worry about where their next meal is coming from, and should not be going to bed wishing they had something to eat.
These are not political statements – these are human statements. Regardless of your politics, from the Jewish perspective, you are not permitted to stand by as people starve to death when you have the ability to help.
How can you help?
A couple of ideas:
Donate your time and dollars to a food rescue organization, such as Forgotten Harvest (http://www.forgottenharvest.org/), which rescues surplus, prepared and perishable foods and donates them to emergency food providers rather than having them end up in dumpsters.
Each time you host a Shabbat dinner or other festive meal in your home, make it a point to invite a family (or individual) that you know is struggling to put food on the table. The ability to connect with such families certainly exists through your local Jewish Family Services, kosher food bank, etc. Make it a point to have everyone in attendance take home leftovers of some kind, so that the family can have some additional food for their home without being self-conscious or ashamed.
Be grateful for what you have, and take the time to express that gratitude.