“Gratitude lasts about 72 hours.”
This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, gives us an instruction to express gratitude at mealtimes. Many of us are familiar with the concept of pausing for a moment before eating to express gratitude for our food: for the people that prepared it, for the land that produced it, and for G-d who provides it all. Yet the instruction in this week’s Torah portion reads: “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the LORD your G-d” (Deuteronomy 8:10). The Torah isn’t telling us to pause for gratitude before eating – the Torah instructs us to pause for gratitude after eating. Why after, and not before?
I explored this question with Beit T’Shuvah residents this week during Torah Study. As always, many of the participants offered unique insights and perspectives that I had never heard of before, and could never have thought of on my own. One resident shared that this concept, to express gratitude after eating, reminded him of a teaching from Harriet: “Gratitude lasts about 72 hours.” When residents first move in to the house, they connect to gratitude about all aspects of their experience. A warm bed. Three meals a day, warm and nourishing. A treatment team that invests time in them no matter what, that cares about their well-being regardless of the choices they have made in the past or might make in the future.
And yet – once residents get used to all of these things – that experience of gratitude often begins to fade. Disconnection from gratitude can happen at an astonishingly rapid pace. The same residents that are grateful to have food provided for them when they first move in can start complaining about the food just a few weeks later. It’s the same food – so what has changed? And what does this have to do with expressing gratitude specifically after eating?
It’s easy to connect to gratitude when we’re receiving something we have been going without, something we have been desperately needing. It’s a whole different challenge to connect to gratitude when we are in an experience of comfort rather than desperation – in the words of the Torah, “when we have eaten our fill.” When we are experiencing the pain of going without, we are desperate for the comfort of satisfaction. But when we have already eaten our fill – especially for those of us that need to work a program of recovery – we are already scheming to get the next thing that we want. Our addict brain, our human craving brain, doesn’t want to stay in the place of gratitude. It makes us itchy for something more, something better, something else.
This is where spirituality comes in; this is where we can experience the brilliance of the Torah’s teaching. We can stop ourselves from rushing to satisfy that next craving with a spiritual practice of learning to pause in those moments when we have eaten our fill, when we have received what we need. We can learn to look for, to notice, the feeling of having enough – of eating enough, of being enough. And we can learn to pause in those moments, and to be grateful. We can be grateful to the people in our lives that have helped us receive what we need. We can be grateful to ourselves for being willing to take responsibility for our own well-being. And we can be grateful to a Higher Power of our own understanding for being present in our lives and in our recovery.
As we move towards this Shabbat together, and we anticipate the first bite of challah after Cantor Nate’s HaMotzi blessing, may we accept the challenge of pausing when we have eaten our fill. May we take that moment of pause to connect to gratitude – for our food, for our sobriety, for our community, and for the opportunity to live well.