84. Blessed Beans

84. Blessed Beans

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Blessed Beans

Mrs. Goldberg and Mrs. Weiss are lunching
at a well-known Miami Beach hotel.
“The food here is terrible,” says Mrs. Goldberg.
“And such small portions!”
adds Mrs. Weiss.
 ~The Big Little Book of Jewish Wit & Wisdom
edited by Sally Ann Berk

“God Bless Heinz Vegetarian Beans!” I found myself saying this prayerful reflection to myself as I was about to address my congregation on the eve of Yom Kippur. Sixty-five pounds down within the year, and without a doubt my most successful daily meal was a can of Heinz Vegetarian Beans. Sometimes, I daydream that H.J. Heinz will hire me as their official rabbinic spokesman and I will become the new “Subway Jared” for this alternative magical prescription to successful weight loss. This daydream takes on many forms. My favorite is appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show and commiserating with her on how hard it is to be a public figure and address one’s eating problems, yo-yo weight loss and gain, etc. Oprah would embrace my new insight into the power of the “bean” and I’d solve all my financial stresses moving forward.

My daydreaming usually abruptly ends at this point. I discovered Heinz Vegetarian Beans in college because it was what I could afford to eat on a regular basis and it provided me a healthy meal. I remember being embarrassed when my wife-to-be, Roseanne, first came to the studio apartment I shared with two other roommates. She looked in my kitchen cabinet and saw stacks of cans of Heinz Vegetarian Beans. I recall how, back then, I shamefully admitted that it was what I routinely ate. But, it was also in college that I was my leanest and healthiest self. Once I started working and had easier access to funds, I don’t think I ever had a can of my old favorite. And, now, with the nutritional program I had pursued, I had formally learned the power of low fat, high protein, and the wonders of hunger-fulfilling fiber. The beans that once had been my affordable fallback had now become my nostalgic source of properly proportioned and well-balanced eating.

So, I stood on the pulpit, took a big breath, and decided to confess to them my greatest challenge. They had all noticed, and many had commented on, the miraculously lost 65 pounds. I was trusting in them to share my secret. It was no miracle; it is the hardest, most difficult struggle I have ever pursued. I feel ensnared within a constant trap of mental and physical delusion, struggling daily with my overeating as addiction. I, the rabbi who assists them daily with successfully confronting challenges of faith, identity, spirituality, and connection, was only recently coming to terms with the fact that I have a terribly real personal struggle with addictive behavior. And, in fact, my professional life often acted as a catalyst to pursuing my mindless escapes with food.

I confessed that while I have no sweet tooth, portion size is my runaway train. Family legend holds that my first phrase was “French fries,” although as reported to me by my parents, what I really said often as a toddler was “free fries.” I recalled this fact with bittersweet humor because my escapism with food was really so much more problematic when I had the ability to freely access it.

Even my religious tradition seemingly blessed the problematic choices I was making. There is an old Jewish joke that declares: “we were persecuted; we overcame; now we eat!” The anecdotal experiences of my lifetime are that much of Jewish life often appears to revolve around the enjoyment of food. The custom of a traditional weekly Sabbath observance, in most Jewish homes, is to treat family and loved ones to mini-banquets.

Rarely is there ever an official “Jewish event” where there isn’t a generous offering of delicacies to enjoy. The one major exception is Yom Kippur, our “Day of Atonement,” where we observe a 24-hour fast. But, prior to this sacred fast many families and friends gather for their pre-Yom Kippur buffet. And, the break-fast after Yom Kippur is probably the single greatest sales event for bagels, cream cheese and lox of which I am aware.

I was contemplating all of this as I chose to share with my congregational family: “I am a binge eater.” I also told them, “Food control is my most difficult personal daily challenge.” And I confessed, “It’s a billion times easier to keep kosher than to watch what I eat; I can eat as much kosher pastrami as I want, but to refrain from that which is ritually permitted, that is my constant ‘stumbling block before the blind.’”

My congregational family laughed, but also they cared. And, afterwards many have come to me admitting to their own personal struggles with food or other addictive challenges that they confront. Now we talk as family, siblings who share similar challenges. We discuss how we need to acknowledge and accept that we have a problem. And then find for ourselves the support, love and compassion that can give us the strength to confront the obstacles that stand between us and our success.

It’s never easy. We have to retrain our minds and be vigilant. When a wonderful spread of foods becomes magically available you have to transform your immediate instinct to prayerfully declare, “Hallelujah,” into the much more serious prayerful reflection of “please help me find the strength to stick to my food plan.”

When Yom Kippur concluded last year, my greatest accomplishment for the day was passing on the bagels, cream cheese and lox, and instead choosing to enjoy my can of Heinz Vegetarian Beans. I thanked God for my healthy choice and meal. And, I decided to recast the old Jewish joke into a wiser proverb: “we are eternally challenged; we can forever overcome; now let’s find the best way for each individual to appropriately celebrate.”

~Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz

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