V’achalta V’savata: The State of Satiation

Rabbi Dr. Darrel Ginsberg

One of the more popular American summer pastimes is the barbeque, bringing together friends and family, a common bond emerging from hot dogs and hamburgers (and for those vegans out there, the meat substitute). After this feast is over, the participants settle back in their easy chairs, their consumption complete. They are satiated, full, in a state of seviya–feeling full. It is the natural result of such a meal. And it is a concept that is actually a focus of this week’s parsha.

Towards the end of Parshas Eikev, in the second section of kriyas shema, God explains that if we follow His commandments, we will be rewarded with plentiful rain and abundant food. God then tells us (Devarim 11:15):

And I will provide grass in your field for your animals, and you will eat and be full. (v’achalta v’savata).

Immediately after (ibid 16), God warns us:

Look out for yourselves lest your heart be misled and you turn away and serve other gods and bow to them

Rashi (ibid) notes the juxtaposition of these two verses:

Since you will eat and be full, look out for yourselves, so that you are not insubordinate, for a man does not rebel against the Holy One, may He be blessed, except when satiated, as it is said, ‘Lest you eat and become full (pen tochal v’savata), and your cattle and flocks multiply.’ What is said afterward? ‘You shall become arrogant and forget.’”

Rashi seems to be introducing a new concept – satiation brings someone to rebel against God. What type of causal relationship is this?

However, there is a more fundamental implication from Rashi’s words. He is clearly explaining that the state of satiation is fraught with danger, leading to Bnai Yisrael turning away from God.

And yet...in the beginning of this same parsha, the Torah (ibid 8:10) tells us:

You will eat and be full, and you will bless (v’achalta v’savata u’verachta) Hashem, your G-d, for the good land He has given you

The Talmud explains (Berachot 21a) that this is the source of the obligation to recite birkas hamazon:

Rab Judah said: Where do we find that the grace after meals (birkas hamazon) is ordained in the Torah? Because it says: And you will eat and be full, and you will bless

The common deduction from this that it is the state of seviya that requires one to recite birkas hamazon. And if this is the case, it would seem the state of satiation, rather than bring one to idolatry, is an opportunity for a greater understanding of God. (It is important to note that within halacha, bread is the food that by definition brings about this result).

How do we resolve this contradiction?

Let’s first take a broader look at the verses Rashi quotes in his interpretation. Moshe relays the following to Bnai Yisrael (ibid 8:11-14):

Look out for yourself lest you forget Hashem, your God, to not guard His commandments, His laws, and His statutes that I am commanding you today. Lest you eat and be full, and build good houses and live [in them.] And your cattle and your sheep multiply, and silver and gold multiply for you, and everything you own multiplies. And your pride increases, and you forget Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery;”

There is a progression here that requires an explanation. The Torah tells us that one will “eat and be full,” which leads to more houses, cattle, and treasures - culminating with the statement of “everything you own multiplies.” It is at that point that the person turns away from God, the rebellion alluded to by Rashi.

How does this all happen from a few big meals?

Eating, as everyone knows, is one of the primary appetitive drives, whereby a person consumes to remove the physiological state of hunger. Yet there is a different type of eating experience, that which leads to satiation. This outcome is, in actuality, beyond fulfilling any such physiological need - it brings about a positive psychological state, the “feeling of being full,” a perceived sensation of complete and utter satisfaction. This is the state that the Torah focuses on. 

There are two possible results that emerge from being soveah. Normally, the physical world serves to assist man in his routine daily life; but to enter the state of satiation goes beyond the standard. When a person views the physical world benefiting him in this way, beyond simply fulfilling a requirement, a possible danger emerges. The nature of his dependency on this world for survival changes and the objective of the physical world becomes a means to serve his needs. It is there to make him happy, to create the sense of satisfaction. To view the physical world in such a manner leads man down the path the Torah warns us against. He looks to acquire more and more, trying to satisfy his endless needs and does so in line with his thinking that the world exists for his benefit. If the world is there to serve man’s desires, man becomes all important. And the culmination of all this is the “rebellion” against God. It is man’s outsized view of the self that leads to this result. It is more than a big meal; it is a distorted and self-serving attitude. That is not to say that being satiated directly results in this. It is more how one, over a period of time, reflects while in this state, and how he begins to direct his energies. 

When the physical world serves mankind beyond that which is necessary, mankind judges himself as the epitome of greatness. Based on this, one might conclude to become satiated is inherently a problem. However, there is another approach that man turns to, with the guidance of the Torah. The Torah teaches us that the world we live in, and that which we benefit from, is not there as an end in and of itself. Rather, the physical world serves as a means, a vehicle to help us in our understanding of God and perfection of the self. When this world is functioning beyond the “need” realm, shifting into the psychological satisfaction, a unique opportunity emerges. When someone can direct that state towards yediyas Hashem, he is utilizing the benefit of the physical world towards its true objective. This is what makes birkas hamazon so pivotal - it is more than the recognition of God as the source of all. It is the personification of man’s proper relationship to the physical world. So he has the big meal – and when he is soveah, he recites birkas hamzon, turning to God. 

We see from this a fascinating theme that is not isolated to the phenomenon of satiation. Throughout the Torah, we are taught not to repress or shun the physical world around us, but to enjoy it and take pleasure from it. On the other hand, the lure of the psychological pleasures of our surrounding world can ultimately lead mankind to reject God. God lays out for us a road to properly enjoy this world, and how to tie that enjoyment to the ultimate objective. After downing that last hot dog and reclining back in that chair, view the state of satiation not simply as a means of self satisfaction, but as an opportunity to engage in yediyas Hashem – knowledge of God.