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Stop and Think; Choose a Blessing and Bless; Eat

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Life in general distracts me. It’s true no matter what I’m doing or where I am. If I go into the food co-op for bread and peanut butter, I’ll carry out shampoo and trail mix; when I resolve to run twelve times around the track, I lose count after the third loop. Even when I get through a task, I often neglect to follow up or look back to consider its lessons. By the time I’m halfway through, my mind is already whirring off in another direction.

So I was a little concerned when I signed up for a 21-day “spring rejuvenation cleanse” and learned that it would involve focus. In multiple ways. But this also got to the heart of why I wanted to purify in the first place.

To get the most out of this food-based detoxifying experience, the approximately 50 participants are supposed to eat certain foods, avoid others, prepare detoxifying recipes, breathe deeply, take long walks, and journal about the whole thing each day. On top of all that, our guide encourages us to “eat mindfully”. I figured if I could do all of that, I might have a fighting chance of getting my attention deficit into the black.

Just before the cleanse’s official start date of April 5, I realized I already had an advantage when it came to mindful eating. To get started, I headed to my bookshelf.

Of course, it took me a few minutes of looking at other books and trying to remember why I was there, but soon I was leafing through my copy of Food for Thought, Hazon’s curriculum on Jews, food, and contemporary life. I turned to chapter 2, “Gratitude, Mindfulness, and Blessing our Food”, and started to get reacquainted with the berachot for the things I eat every day.

Usually, I only remember to say blessings over food or beverages on special occasions – at a Shabbat dinner, or during a Pesach Seder. I can count on one hand the number of times a year I say the Birkat Hamazon, or bensch, after a meal. During the 21 days of the cleanse, I decided, I would finally corral my attention and make it happen.

Food for Thought lists not two or three, but six blessings over noshes and meals (it’s the same list available from online resources like My Jewish Learning and Chabad). This demands even more attention.

First of all, I can’t start shoveling the morning’s oatmeal (pictured above) into my mouth while I iron my pants. No. I have to pause. Then I have to quiet my mind enough to consider: Is this food primarily made of grains? Or animal products? If it is a fruit or vegetable, does it come from a tree or the ground? The second step is to remember the last phrase after the standard preamble blessing God, ruler of the universe. Is it He who creates varieties of nourishment? (for foods made of grains that are not bread), or He who creates the fruit of the tree? The third step is to say it. Then, of course, you can dig in.

Throughout the first days, I kept severing my string of consciousness. On the first night, I even determined, as I fussed with my salad in the kitchen, that I should say “borei p’ri ha’adamah.” One step down! I thought. This’ll be a cinch. But by the time I brought everything to the table, I forgot and just started eating.

When I did remember that night, I decided to do it anyway. So I stopped. I put down my fork and I looked up from the book I was reading. I held the bowl in my hands, looking down at the mix of green in the lettuces and examining the shades of orange and ivory in the other vegetables. Then I said the blessing aloud.

Next, I turned to my salmon. I said the blessing I had been trying to learn for the past day, the one that applies to fish, dairy, candy, and other miscellaneous foods–a collection of things that reminded me a lot of the sundry thoughts jumbling through my head most of the time. I stumbled a little, but finally remembered the words: “shehakol niyah bidvar”–”at whose word all came to be.”

Then I picked up my fork and started over.

Stop and think; choose a blessing and bless; eat.

It seems a simple line of thought, and one that I can eventually complete. Maybe by the time I’m eating bread again, I’ll even make it to bensching.

Note: The Hebrew translations above are actually from My Jewish Learning, not Food for Thought. I noticed differences in each source I consulted. If you have thoughts on why that might be, feel free to comment!

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5 Responses to “Stop and Think; Choose a Blessing and Bless; Eat”

  1. Avigail Says:

    Thanks, Rhea, for sharing these thoughts – I completely relate to the distraction while eating! Glad to learn about your experiment.

  2. Rhea Yablon Kennedy Says:

    Phew! I’m glad I’m not the only one :)

  3. Julie Steinberg Says:

    What a terrific post. I also suffer from these distractions, and not just while eating. I hope the cleanse was a success.

  4. Jonathan B-Kraus Says:

    Nice post, Rhea! This psychology of Jewish food blessings makes a lot of sense!

  5. jimmy Says:

    Nice post Rhea! thanks for sharing.

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