Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pirqe Abot, 2:8: Rabbi Magriso on overeating

He [Hillel] used to say  "the more meat [i.e., food] the more maggots".
In this Mishna we are taught that excess in the satisfaction of our basic needs is not necessarily good. On the contrary, it hurts us.  Anticipating the modern medical view on the destructive consequences of overeating Rabbi Ytzhaq Magriso (18th Century Turkey) writes: "Hillel explains that all wordily things are meaningless, fleeting and impermanent. One may expect pleasure from these vices, but the effect is often the opposite. The first vice [mentioned by Hillel] is overeating...  one feels good and strong after a large meal, and feels that he can go in this manner forever. But the net result is often obesity... Overindulgence in eating and drinking can bring about many sicknesses, an much human illness is the result of not keeping one's mouth closed.  If one eats too much, he ends up shortening his life span." 
Judaism does not preach to suppress our basic needs. But when we indulge in excesses, these needs turn into vices or what we call today addictions. Overeating; the insatiable craving for wealth; excessive laziness; excessive attention to sex. etc. are all self destructive     
Rabbi Magriso concludes:
"Thus, the more a person indulges in worldly vices believing that this will lead to a good life, the more the opposite becomes true.  A man should get along with the minimum required to live a respectable life, and not seek more. The opposite of the vice of overindulgence in eating and drinking which shortens one's life, is the increase in the study of Torah. As the master says, 'The more Torah the more life' ." 
The Tora we learn "is not merely an external gain, but it becomes an integral part of a person. It is thus something that one carries with him even after death. In this respect it is the exact opposite of worldly vices, which are entirely external. Nothing of these [food, material wealth, etc] can be taken along when one dies.  No matter how much one gains of the worldly, everything is left behind".