If you’re like me, January prompts you to reexamine a few bothersome behaviors — and make a few (or more) resolutions for the coming year. Making resolutions is a dangerous proposition, of course. A strictly goal-oriented approach gives us a flat, “all or nothing” mandate that can lead to failure. By February, our resolution has dropped off our spiritual radar, and we marinate our inertia in the guilt of giving up. As the negative emotions pile up, we risk (as the rabbis say), “begetting one sin with another” — creating a vicious cycle that leaves us in a spiritual mess. Instead, let’s take a deeper approach. Make a few life adjustments — for promises that you can keep.
Since writing about this idea in 2012, I’ve received some great comments and suggestions. So in that spirit (and with a little nudge from an editor-friend), I’ve expanded our list to include five new ways to make life more meaningful. We can accomplish this by deepening our relationship to the food we eat, based on Judaism’s ancient wisdom.
Eat Simply: As the holiday season roared to a close, I asked my wife and fellow foodie to make a “detox dinner” for January 1. After weeks of parties, overeating and rich foods, I was ready for a bowl of simple rice and lentils, or just steamed broccoli. Judaism doesn’t prevent us from living richly, but it does ask us to live in the world of Shabbat (with all its delicacies) and the other six days with their simplicity. The back-and-forth between Shabbat and hol (ordinary days) doesn’t mean one realm is more holy than the other. We need both. Life is the same way: We need peak moments to make life spicier, but we also need to recognize joy in the everyday. By embracing both, we de-clutter our expectations for how life is “supposed to be” and walk fully present through a life lived “just so.”
Eat Intently: Kavanah is the Hebrew word that symbolizes the intentions floating under the surface of our deeds, and the word that points to our desired spiritual direction. In the Talmud, the rabbis argue for pages about our actions and whether they require intention. After all, if we eat a piece of matzah on Passover, isn’t that enough–or must we feel swept up in the drama of the Exodus to fulfill this commandment? The practice of Judaism shines between deed and intention. A carefully cultivated spiritual life uses our mitzvot to shape the kavanah that lays beneath. We can put food in our mouths (deed), or we can reflect on why this particular carrot is good for us, how much gratitude we feel for the opportunity to eat it and feel the cycle of life in which we are privileged to take part.
Eat Passionately: I have three children under age 5. When I gave one of them a chocolate brownie the other day, he carefully pulled it apart and began to eat the fudgy insides with such gusto that most of it painted his face like an expensive spa treatment. His face, though, told the deeper truth. His eyes lit up, his smile was huge, and his giggle was so infectious that everyone around the table began to laugh. All of this because he felt the special passion of eating something amazing. He was consumed by his delight. Imagine if we could live life like this!
Eat Integrally: When the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote his epic tractate on ethics, Nicomachean Ethics, he found most disheartening those people who espoused one set of values but lived by another. He described those who lived without integrity as being “asleep or drunk” (lit. akrasia). You could say his take on living the happiest human life is to know one’s core value and to act on those values. This is also true when we eat. When we choose what to buy, cook and put in our mouths, we make a statement about the values we hold dear. This is true in our private lives as consumers and in our public lives. This year, as members of the Jewish Food Movement, let’s strive to integrate our values with our actions. Let’s choose to nurture a more sustainable and nourishing food system. Let’s continue to educate others (and ourselves) about the health benefits of good eating. Most important, let’s move beyond dinner parties and foray into political parties–to fight hunger and obesity, correct environmental imbalances and create a more just food system for all.
This year’s resolutions don’t have to be zero-sum game. By making small adjustments in our food choices, we can change our lives and the lives of those around us. As we eat, so we live.
Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino is the founder of Netiya, an L.A.-based network of Jewish organizations focused on food education for environmental and social justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and @RabbiNoah on Twitter.