September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

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Shavuot: We Received the Torah, Now Pass the Cheesecake

Shavuot marks the conclusion of a seven-week period that began on the second night of Pesach, as we commemorate the giving of the Torah. The counting of the days leading up to this holiday is an expression of our great anticipation and excitement about receiving the Torah. While Pesach celebrates our freedom, Shavuot celebrates our becoming a nation.

It is noteworthy that according to the Talmud, there is a dispute regarding the other Jewish holidays as to whether one should spend one’s time either completely engaged in spiritual pleasures or completely engaged in physical pleasures, or whether one should split one’s time on the holiday, engaging in both spiritual and physical pleasures. When it comes to Shavuot, however, all agree that the celebration must include physical enjoyment.

One reason for this somewhat unexpected distinction is that the Torah is meant to govern not only our spiritual and religious lives but our physical and material lives as well, and that is a point we wish to highlight. Even our most basic biological need – the need to eat and thereby provide our bodies with sustenance – is governed by Torah laws such as those relating to Kashruth, to reciting blessings before and after eating and so on. It is therefore on Shavuot that the requirement to partake of delicious food perhaps takes on an added dimension.

But what to eat? Consuming the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat can help one maintain a healthy weight and optimize one’s energy levels. Protein and carbohydrates both contain four calories per gram, while fat provides nine calories per gram. Trying to figure out the right balance can be tricky and most of us don’t have the time or the desire to think about it.

In my family, we used to like to joke about the fact that Shavuot gives us a chance to eat differently. Instead of (or in the case of some members of my family, in addition to) another heavy fleishig (meat) meal, we can have a nice, light milchig (dairy) meal. In the old days, this light dairy meal consisted of the following: Wine and challah (of course), baked ziti, an assortment of broccoli and cheese quiches, breaded flounder, blintzes, Caesar salad and for dessert, the much-anticipated Oreo cookie or Snickers cheesecake, ice cream and fruit. This typical meal (without having a second portion of anything) has approximately 2500 calories, 315 grams of carbohydrates, 125 grams of fat and 80 grams of protein. And all this, at least in some cases, after having had just a few hours of morning rest following a sleepless night – the perfect combination, it would seem, of unhealthy eating and unhealthy sleeping, along with, most likely, very little movement due to exhaustion!

So what is a Jew to do? I am not suggesting that those whose custom it is to stay up all night learning on Shavuot should not do so. Nor am I suggesting that we forego the Shavuot traditions of eating blintzes or cheesecake. By the time most of you read this article, you will in any case be done with most of your cooking and will be enjoying time learning and spending time with your family and friends.

But if you are cooking on Yom Tov, here are some healthier suggestions: Add veggies to your lasagna, like spinach, as this will help cut back on the amount of lasagna that you use. Make a crust-less quiche – I do it all the time and it is delicious! Don’t add croutons or craisins to your salad, make your own salad dressing and don’t dress the salad – keep the dressing on the side. As for the cheesecake, the first bite and the tenth bite taste the same, so when partaking, taste it, savor the flavor, and then take a moment to think about whether or not you really want more. If you’re a coffee drinker, make yourself a large glass of iced coffee and sip it during dessert. Keep your mouth busy!

After each meal, go out for a walk – even if you’re tired. Taking a brisk walk is a good antidote for the lethargy one feels after putting in an all-nighter. If you move your body, there’s automatic feedback from your muscles that goes to the central mechanism of the brain to improve alertness. If you are attending Shiurim, try taking a class in a Shul that is not nearby; this will provide a motivation for your walk and a destination. Lists of many of the classes that are available in town may be found in this paper.

How you eat, move and sleep after Shavuot is also very important in terms of getting back into a healthy lifestyle. You may be tempted to eat very little the day after Yom Tov, but don’t let the pendulum swing to the other extreme. Keep in mind that skipping meals can trigger binge eating later. Plan your next meal and be prepared. Eat clean whole food, like salmon or chicken, with your favorite vegetables. Drink a lot of water – at least 64 ounces to help with post Yom Tov digestion. Try to schedule time for a light workout or a walk the day after Yom Tov. The scale may not be your friend right after Shavuot, so wait two or three days before weighing in.

The take home message: Enjoy your time with family and friends, prepare and eat delicious food but keep in mind the ingredients when cooking, be conscious not to overeat, watch your portions, go for a walk, take a short nap, go to a Shiur, learn with your parents, spouse, children and friends. Have a Chag Sameiach and get the leftover cheesecake out of the house right after Yom Tov!

Beth Taubes is a certified oncology nurse with over 30 years of experience. She recently founded Wellness Wisdom, a health practice, and became a health coach in order to help her clients live healthier, happier, more wholesome lives. She can be reached at [email protected]

By Beth S. Taubes

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