A Well Balanced Diet
In this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach, after the splitting of the sea and drowning of the Egyptian army, the Jewish people begin their trek to Har Sinai, being led by the Clouds of Glory by day and a pillar of fire by night. Along the way they pick up the Well of Miriam, a rock that supplies water throughout the travels in the desert, as well as manna, food that falls from heaven. In summation the Torah tells us about the manna: , “…gather of it each one according to his eating capacity, an omer for each person… and whoever gathered much did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less… Let no one leave over [any] of it until morning” (Shemos 16:16-19).
The Ralbag learns from here that it is not fitting for a person to afflict his soul by limiting himself from food essentials. It is also not proper to eat more then he needs to sustain his body. This is why Hashem commanded the Jews to collect a measurement of an omer of manna for each person. What Hashem did was a miracle, for when each person weighed how much they personally received they found they got the exact amount that was fitting for them. The Divine intention was that they would have an exact amount of sustenance, no less and no more, in order to accustom themselves with the attribute of simplicity, as well as to distance themselves from acting like other nations who agonized themselves pretending to serve Hashem in that manner. For this reason also Hashem commanded that no food should be left over till the next day” (Toeles HaRalbag #4 in perek 16). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Besides the obvious lesson that everyone should take care of their bodies and strive to eat a well-balanced diet, I believe there is a much broader lesson that we can glean from this Ralbag. Hashem the Perfect One, Almighty, All Knowing, was able to give each individual in the desert the exact nutrients they need each day. But the Ralbag says that we can learn a lesson that we can apply to ourselves from the obviously open miracle Hashem performed for approximately 3 million people daily. That is, it is generally improper to go to the extremes in life. One must strive to the best of his ability to strike a balance, whether it is with his diet or anything else in life. A healthy, well-balanced diet where one eats exactly what he need, not starving himself, but not indulging too much, will energize a person and give him or her the ability to serve Hashem to the maximum. This is true about anything else in life as well. Everything one does should be for the sake of serving Hashem, so everything should be balanced by that attitude:’how do I serve Hashem to the fullest,’ without going overboard or undershooting.
This lesson of finding a balance or middle ground might be one of the hardest purposes Hashem has put humankind on earth to perfect. But it is also one of the most important, because this is what Hashem is looking for; not to go to one extreme or the other. As the basic theme of Mesillas Yesharim says: we should strive for perfection and perfection is that perfect balance. It is a challenge, it is not easy, but as it says in Iyov: “Man is born to work hard” (Iyov 5:7). Hashem wants to challenge us, and we become better people when we must analyze our every decision to be sure it is correct, and not leaning more to the left or to the right.
However, there are extreme circumstances that call for extreme measures. For example there is a gemara in Gitten 56a which says Rebbe Tzadok fasted for 40 years in order to push off the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash. To the opposite extreme there is a mitzvah to indulge in delicacies on Shabbos and Yom Tov in order to enhance the enjoyment of the day, but Hashem does help us handle this extreme measure at least on Shabbos, where He wants us to eat 3 meals, by giving us a neshama yeseira, an extra soul, which Rashi in Beitzah 16a and Taanis 27b says is in order to broaden our heart and mind so that we will be able to enjoy the Shabbos with delicious foods and drinks, and not be disgusted of eating. However in general it would seem to be an important tenet to strive for a well-balanced and healthy middle ground as a means to serve Hashem to our optimum!
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder