Tuesday, May 28, 2024



Eat It Up

Picture the scene: you and a friend are traveling in some exotic location and looking for a place to have dinner. It turns out that there’s only one reliably kosher place in town, so you head that way.

A day of active sightseeing lies behind you, and as you walk the streets your appetite grows. Your mind fills with images of the meal you hope to order at the restaurant. You picture plates heaped with exactly the kind of food you like. With each step, your hopes mount.

And then you get there, and hope fizzles and dies.

In many eateries, you get to select the items you want from the menu. In other words, the dining is a la carte. That means that the choice of fare is entirely in your court. You can remove an item from your dish if you like, or you can opt to pay extra for something added. You may order your meat rare or well-done or skip the meat altogether. You can have the dressing on your salad or alongside it. Every aspect of the meal is under your control and in accordance with your personal palate and preferences.

But this restaurant is not that way. It offers the kind of dining experience that the French call a “table d’hote:” that is, a meal offered for a fixed price with little or no option for change or choice. In this restaurant, you are served whatever is on the menu that day. The details of the meal are crafted by the chef and are based on his preferences, not yours.

“Oh, no!” you wail. “I wanted to order a thick, juicy steak and French Fries. But that’s not on the menu!”

You see red. This is so unfair! You can’t have what you want. What you were looking forward to. What you feel you deserve. And that makes you mad.

For long minutes, your poor friend is forced to listen to you rant and rave (in an undertone, so the waiter won’t hear) about the situation. “I expected to be able to choose my meal! Why can’t I have what I want?”

Your friend, meanwhile, is having a different reaction. Of a less volatile temperament (and temper), disappointment sends her to melancholy rather than rage. Wistfully, she thinks about what she would have liked to order. Stoically, she prepares herself to consume whatever she will be served. She’s not happy about the situation, but she figures there’s no point getting angry. Who, exactly, should she direct her anger at? The chef?

Whether furious or fatalistic, the two hapless diners are going to be served whatever it is the restaurant is serving that night. In this, they have no choice. However, they do have a choice about how they’ll eat their meal. They can either choke down every bite with a sauce of bile and bitterness, or have their dinner calmly, trying their best to appreciate its good points and grateful that at least their hunger is being assuaged.

In the grand scheme of life, what kind of diners are we?


The Wall of Reality

Being of a non-choleric temperament, I’ve never really understood people who get angry at Hashem when things go south. Sadness, I can understand. Wistfulness, I can relate to. But getting angry at the Author of everything seems not only counterproductive, but downright nonsensical.

I remember someone I once knew who was experiencing a difficult time with a medical issue. She was filled with sound and fury, until a relative asked her, “Who, exactly, are you angry at?” Spewing rage at the Creator is literally like banging your head against a wall: the wall of Reality, with a capital R. We can’t budge that wall a centimeter, let alone topple it. The only thing anger will get us is a massive headache.

And yet, I can’t really blame people for having an indignant reaction when trouble strikes. The aching disappointment of having your dreams go up in smoke can be hard to handle without venting some spleen. In the same way, I can’t blame anyone for becoming sad and maudlin at having to say good-bye to some long-cherished hope. Not getting what you want is sad. No point pretending it isn’t.

But once the first emotional reaction is over, that would be a good time to set aside our instinctive responses and put our heads to work, trying to figure out what our attitude should be.


Master Chef

We all wish that our stay on this earth could be an a la carte menu. Run your finger happily down the list of offered items. Pick a perfect spouse, choose ideal children, check off the boxes for a wonderful job, house, income, social circle. And then sit down to enjoy the meal of your life!

But Hashem didn’t set it up that way. Being a compassionate G-d, He certainly showers us with all sorts of blessings every day of our lives. But we don’t get to choose the menu. We only get to accept what we’re served and try to consume it gracefully and gratefully. The alternative is to live out our lives pickled in vinegary regret, our eyes fixed on dreams and wishes that have no hold over what is.

So we try to push away our sad or indignant reactions, and to accept Hashem’s will. We strain to discern chinks of light in the darkness. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, something magical happens. It’s not that we forget the hopes and dreams we once had. Of course we’d prefer a dinner whose every ingredient resonates with our personal tastes. But at some point, if we’re at all spiritually attuned, we look down at our heaped plates and realize that our loving Parent has filled it with the kind of nourishment we most urgently need. And that even a dish which we didn’t order, would never have dreamed of ordering, can be chock-full of surprising flavor.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu is the Master Chef that composes the perfect meal for each and every one of His children. We may have walked into the restaurant hoping for a different sort of fare. In our disappointment, we may struggle with an initial response of fury or melancholy.

We may not like the look of the food on our plates. We may have wished for something different. But when the smoke clears and we can move past that first, intense, emotional reaction, I think we’ll realize that He knows what we need far better than we do.

And, realizing that, there’s just one response that makes any sense at all: pick up your fork, fill your heart with trust in His infinite benevolence… and eat up!












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