I once heard someone relate a theory about weight gain. A
study classified people into two groups. The members of the
first group were those who tend to consider each meal as a
unit. The second group consisted of people who consider food
Let's say, for example, that today's lunch consists of a tuna
sandwich cut diagonally into two triangular portions, a
pickle, a serving of coleslaw and a cup of coffee. Now
suppose a group-one person is eating this meal. As she is
halfway finished with the second tuna triangle, her phone
rings. She would put down her remaining quarter sandwich and
go to answer the phone. After hanging up, she would resume
her meal. A group-two person would react differently. If her
phone rang when she was holding a quarter of a sandwich in
her hand, she would stuff it into her mouth, chew it rapidly
and swallow it as she walked to the phone. After the phone
call, she would make another sandwich and start all over
The group-one person was satisfied with the one sandwich she
thought of as "lunch." The group-two person consumed two
sandwiches but she wasn't necessarily satisfied. She did not
consider the sandwich/pickle/coleslaw/coffee as a unit called
lunch that has a start and an end. She might have continued
eating for an extended period of time.
The conclusion of this study was that group-one types are
prone to average or below average weight while group-two
people tend to be overweight, if not obese.
Boruch Hashem, we have access to more food than our
ancestors ever dreamed of. As we sit around a Shabbos table
or participate in a simcha, the bread, salads,
vegetables and rice are passed around numerous times and
sometimes there are even seconds on the chicken or meat. It
is very easy to become a group-two person. Indeed, overweight
is a common problem.
HaRav Shlomo Brevda shlita suggests a simple way to
deal with the overabundance in today's materialistic society.
He says we should take a plate, fill it with a reasonable
helping of each of the foods on the table, eat what is on our
plate and not take more of anything.
In other words, you can fight materialism. It isn't easy, but
you can train yourself to be a group-one individual.
I have a friend whose weakness is nuts. Not the ones you see
in the local seed store. She likes the American salted,
roasted-in-oil fancy nut assortment that comes in a can and
has about two meals' worth of calories in each cup.
Whenever my friend sits down at an American simcha and
there is a bowl of glistening oily salted nuts in the middle
of the table, she turns to a neighbor and says, "Could you
please pass the nuts — down to the other end of the
table." Out of sight is also out of reach.
There was a successful anti-drug-abuse program in the States
called "Just Say No" that encouraged teens and young adults
who were offered marijuana and other illicit drugs to
forcefully decline the offer with a resounding, "No!" We can
and should say, "No" to many of the things that are being
foisted upon us by businesses using highly successful
Let me give you one example. When we lived in the States, our
boys wore suits on Shabbos because that was the style there.
American boys looked like miniature men in white shirts, ties
and either two- or three-piece black suits modeled on the
ones their fathers were wearing. When there is a certain mode
of dress that is universally accepted in a community as being
appropriate for honoring Shabbos, everyone conforms to that
When we moved to Israel, I was delighted to find that my
eight-year-old son could wear a white shirt, dark slacks and
a knitted vest or a sweater on Shabbos. He didn't need a suit
jacket at all. The local standard did not require one.
Furthermore, all of the parts of the acceptable Shabbos
outfit were washable.
It was wonderful. No expensive suits and no dry cleaning
bills. I told all of my friends in the States that this was
the life: low tuition, affordable health care and inexpensive
children's Shabbos wear that went from the washing machine to
the clothesline and back to the closet.
Unfortunately, this is changing. Recently, I passed a store
with a window full of what looked at first glance like very,
very small men's suits and ties. I came to a sad realization.
No, they hadn't made a group of miniature men's suits for a
cute window display. They were importing children's suits
just like the ones that American boys wear. With it, they
were importing a higher standard of living. These suits are
very costly to buy and to maintain.
There is the initial price of several hundred shekel, the
cost of shaatnez testing, and then week after week of
dry cleaning bills. To add insult to injury, it is very
common to realize at three o'clock Friday afternoon when all
of the children are coming out of the bathtub that the suit
is at the cleaner's and the cleaner's store has closed!
That comes at a cost of emotional wear and tear on Mommy,
Tatty and everyone else who is within 80 decibel range of the
little suit wearer. When I looked in the window, I was sorely
tempted to walk up and down in front of the store with a sign
reading, "Parents, Just Say No!"
However, it is only by experiencing, first hand, a society
where the standard of living keeps ratcheting up—-
higher and higher, year by year—-that a person can
realize the evils of materialism.
Americans can say, "Been there; did that," but Israelis have
not yet reached that level. Fortunately, Israel is still a
few decades behind America in conspicuous consumption, and
this is one race that we do not want to win.
I remember once, back in the States, I thought I had beaten
the system. I found a department store mail catalog that
offered 100% polyester boys three-piece suits that were
machine washable but looked exactly like the dry-clean-only
wool ones, and I bought them for my four youngest sons. One
of them was wearing his new suit and walking to shul
with a neighbor who was also a classmate. The other boy
noticed my son's new suit and made the following comment,
"It's a pity — you have so many brothers and your
parents have to buy you cheap suits."
You may be thinking, "My child would never make such a
comment," but I must tell you that this budding fashion
commentator was the grandson of a prominent rabbi—-a
leader in the field of chinuch, at that! When the
system breaks down, it goes down right across the spectrum.
No one is immune.
We would all be wise to remember Rav Brevda's wise advice.
Take a reasonable portion of the material goodies out there
and don't allow yourself to come back for more.