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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Passion Repression

Yoma 79

Starving a desire is the best means to quelling it.

The Talmud distinguishes between three amounts of eating and their legal consequences.  Although of course, we are not allowed to eat any leaven on Passover, in order to receive Heavenly punishment, one must consume at least the volume of an olive.  Less than that is not considered ‘eating.’  Similarly, in order to join in the quorum for bentching (Grace After Meals), one must have eaten at least the olive’s volume quantity.  In order to necessitate the recitation of bentching, however, one must have eaten at least the volume of an egg, because the Torah says, “And you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied.”  Any lesser quantity would not fill you up and satisfy your hunger.

Concerning the prohibition of eating on Yom Kippur, the Talmud suggests a middle amount between these two quantities: the volume of a large date.  The Torah says that we must ‘afflict’ ourselves on Yom Kippur.  It doesn’t say ‘one must not eat.’  Nor does it say ‘one must not eat to one’s fill.’  It goes without saying that we are not allowed to eat anything, but the determination of this measurement is necessary in order to calculate the minimum amount required to be punished for the transgression.   Similarly, in another application, if one is ill or infirm and must eat on Yom Kippur by doctor’s orders, what would be the maximum that one could consume without becoming biblically liable?  The Talmud concludes that this measure must be somewhere in between the olive and the egg volumes and suggests that the large date amount would put the faster’s mind at ease, while not filling him up.   In other words, even though he may still be hungry, he has crossed the line of eating vis-à-vis Yom Kippur.

We all reach a certain point in our lives when we realize that we must watch what we eat in order to maintain good health and an active lifestyle.  And yet sometimes we struggle with what goes into our mouths.  We feel that we must eat until we are completely satisfied.   According to the Talmud, that amount is way beyond what it would take to put our minds at ease.    Even though we are not full, even though we may still be hungry, that amount should suffice to keep us going.  We don’t need to completely satisfy our hunger in order to maintain healthy bodies and minds. 


In fact, holding back a little will eventually train our mouths and stomachs to expect less and over time our needs will be diminished.  The same is true of worldly desires in general.  Concerning sins of the flesh, our Sages instruct us, “If you satisfy it, it will be hungry; but if you starve it, it will be satisfied.”   This means that when we allow ourselves to pursue our desires, they only multiply and we want more and more, that is, ever coarser, worldlier pleasures.   When we hold back, however, when we starve our appetite for mundane, physical indulgences, we slowly but surely find that we mature out of them.