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It’s 1am and I’m driving back to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv after a 4 hour Tantric Meditation Workshop for men in which I was both teacher and participant and I’m really hungry. For meat.
There’s not that much open at this hour on a weekday and although I have some fruits at home, and some decent cheese, I know that the late night shwarma joints are still open for a bit on Agrippas St. and the thought of one of those right now, with their salad bar of exotic types of pickles keeps me going through the drive. I didn’t have dinner. But what of my mostly vegetrian vows, and what of the recent urproar about what’s really going on in slaughter houses all through Israel?
I make a note of these objections, hesitate, but a louder voice, of which I’m neither proud nor totally ashamed, insists of hunger, not just for food but also for the consolation that it sometimes brings. Comfort food, some call it. Or frustaration food, a compensation, clearly noted, for the fact that here I was in a room with 15 amazing men, all breathing together and talking about erotic selves, and even though it’s the noble and right thing to do – here I am driving home alone, again. And hungry. Hm.
The link between the flesh and meat, all the colors of desire, and of craving, and the human need for more. How often it gets us into trouble in sex and in food and from crave to grave. Dealing with this tension is exactly what the Tantric training is about.
So yes, the wrapped up meat sandwich, with parsley, pickled radishes, garlic spread, fresh finely cut salad and just the right amount of spice is warm and deeply satisfying as I sit there at Sami’s, surrounded by taxi drivers and an religious couple on a date. I am in bed by 2am, both satified and mortified, a restless sleep ensues. I think I dream of deserts, vast and empty, with only wisps of smoke in faraway horizons forever eluding my grasp.
In the morning I open the book to look deeper at this week’s text and there is the meat, and there is the craving, and there are the graves of lust. Numbers Chapter 11, this week’s Torah text, B’halotecha, is a weird mix of protests for meat and prophetic visions. The people are tired of Manna, claiming that ‘our soul is dry’ and Moses yells and people begin to claim prophecies and visions, and from up above the qualis are sent, as they migrate each year, and the people hunt and binge and die in droves, the meat still in their teeth. The graves of lust are mass graves of desire, a warning forever etched in our collective soul.
What’s there to learn of this horrendous story? The simple lesson of ‘less is more’, of less craving, of more presence, of being satisfied with what you got. But who are we kidding? the desire for more flesh, sex, intimacy, meat, plenty, power is what drives us to distraction from those days in the desert to right here and now.
There are times for real needs to be met. Oliver’s ‘please sir, I want some more’ comes from an honest place of hunger. My yearning for that wrapped up flesh earlier this week comes from a hunger deeper yet, and more or maybe less complicated. I judge it and perhaps I ought to be more stern and disciplined – but I give it room, compassion and a sigh, and a hug.
Perhaps the story in this chapter of the wanderings of our ancestores is about greed that is based on nostalgia, on desires not for what is here and now, but for anything but. This is a hard lesson to learn, to remember, to put into use. Comfort food, after all, is about what we know from home, from Egypt, from childhood, even though it may be what our adult selves know to be ethically questionable and nutrioun wise – wrong. Part of growing up is about taking a stand on difficult choices, away from the past wrongs, towards a better next. Giving up on meat is def. one of those battles that we human must, i think, take on.
There is a fine line between excessive desire and ascetic withdrawl. Not every crave leads to an early grave. But many do.
We each must find that fine line and stick to it as often as possible.
Warning heeded, thank you Torah. But everything in moderation, including moderation. Every once in a while, like that other night, going to sleep with meat between your teeth (even though I flossed and brushed) is just what makes one really happy, and that, forgive me cows, and sorry Moses, is as good as it sometimes get. And yet it’s good to aspire higher.
Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org