Friday, April 29, 2011

Inspiration from Pesah 2011

Pesah practice offers fewer choices than the rest of the year. Leavened grains are not permitted, and this being true, the eating of all grains is looked at differently.

The Pesah diet offers a subtle twist towards Tzim Tzum contracting as the days are getting shorter and warmer, and fruit is starting to blossom into the abundance of summer.

It is interesting to feel the changes that result in the body, which come about as a natural consequence of this eating practice. Torah teaches, v'achalta, v'savata, u’varakhta; you shall eat, and be content, and then invoke blessing. (Deut 8:10).

The industrial revolution brought with it blessings and curses. Technology offers high volume production. Abundant inexpensive processed came about as a result. More is better. The challenge is that the the quality of nourishment can be diminished, unless great care is taken to maintain it.

For example, refined sugar is a significant source of dis-ease in our society. It is a poison, since it is depleted of any life force, vitamins and minerals*.

Essentially, sugar masks the body’s sense of contentment -- that is, the feeling of being full and nourished. I clearly remember the sense of confusion I would get when I ate sugar. I had just eaten, yet was definitely hungry only 30 minutes later. I am being guided to remove sugar from my diet.

As a result, I can now tell when my body needs fuel. It is key to maintaining the body’s sense of orientation to healthful nourishment. On the occasion that I eat sugar, I can feel my sense of contentment become altered. This masking takes away our freedom of choice – since the basis has been altered.

Have you ever seen a sugar refining plant?

I got a tour inside one by watching “Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel. They showed an enormous factory, many stories high, with huge vats and mechanized conveyor belts that moved the sugar from process to process. Hard edges, many gears. It was hot in there. Steam emanated from the vats and furnaces. Temperatures upward of 120 degrees F. Sweat streaming down the masked faces of those who dared enter. It looked unforgiving – like it would crush anything that got in its way.

The job being considered was severe -- people wearing what looked like space suits were lowered via harness on a crane to clean the red-hot blades that moved the sugar past the heating element. The blades glowed red hot, like mechanical charcoal. If left untended, the sugar would stick to the moving blades, become layered, and clog up the heating element. It looked like the person was being dropped into the bowels of hell.

A toxic assembly line for a toxic substance: refined sugar. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as it were.

Pesah is a time when we are invited to limit our food intake -- that is, to consciously limit our eating habits. It affords an opportunity to alter our personal eating habits as we re-integrate foods into our diets.

Of course, this is contrary to the way many people celebrate Pesah. Past culture has trained many that more is better. That “more” honors the holy day better. This overindulgence is a remnant, an anachronism, from a time when people did not have sufficient food to eat. It is hard, even counter-intuitive, for many to consider Pesah as a call for minimizing consumption.

The world is different today than when our parents grew up. We have learned that “less” can be “more”. A practice of consuming what is needed for nourishment supports health personally in the short term. Having said this, it is can be very challenging to shift into a mindset where "less is more". I feel differently after eating Pesah food for 8 days -- lighter, more spacious, as it were This feels good as the days continue to get shorter and we get ready for summertime. We need less food when the climate is warmer. I will try to use this to help modulate my weight this Summer.

This break from ordinary eating opens a door to the possibility of change. This is deep wisdom from our ancestors.

Consider this - if you kept Passover Kashrut, you have already done the “heavy lifting” of committing to a change.

If you did not, you can ride on the energy of the season and those who have.

After Pesah, we re-introduce foods into our diets. We can do this selectively.

What will you change this year?

Thanks to (very soon to be) Rabbi Jordan Gerson for his inspiring shiur at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, CA on the eighth day of Pesah 2011. It inspired this post.

* Refined sugar has been called a poison because it has been depleted of its life forces, vitamins and minerals.

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