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A Jewish Bite at McDonald’s
A day unlike any other, Sam decided to break the routine and treat himself to a juicy McDonald’s hamburger, complete with all the toppings, even including bacon. The craving for that crispy bacon was too strong to resist, so without his yarmulke, Sam cycled towards the golden arches.
In the McDonald’s kitchen stood Marc, an old acquaintance from their judo days. Marc knew very well that Sam strictly adhered to the kosher rules and was surprised to see him here. The fact that Sam ordered the “Crispy Bacon Burger” raised Marc’s eyebrows. This had to be a mistake.
Without hesitation, Marc rushed to the nearest store, bought a new frying pan, and ensured a kosher beef patty would steal the show. He even added crispy fried onion rings for the perfect touch.
As Sam impatiently waited, today took longer than usual, increasing his irritation. Finally, he got his sandwich and took a big bite, but to his surprise, this wasn’t what he expected. Confused and a bit angry, he went to the counter to complain, and to his amazement, he saw Marc there.
Sam now understood that there was more to it than a mistake. Ashamed, he left McDonald’s. As he walked home, he realized his mistake and Marc’s kindness. Should he also apologize to G-d? Although he technically hadn’t eaten anything wrong, his intention was clearly at odds with his usual principles.
The story ends with Sam struggling with his sense of regret and the question of whether he should seek spiritual reconciliation as well.
And that is an interesting question because it depends on “Sam.” If he has premeditated that what he is about to do is not right but will later apologize to G-d, it will not be forgiven. As we read in Mishnah Yoma 8:9
One who says: I shall sin and repent, sin and repent, they do not afford him the opportunity to repent. [If one says]: I shall sin and Yom HaKippurim will atone for me, Yom HaKippurim does not effect atonement.
However, that doesn’t mean forgiveness is impossible. At the moment Sam realizes he genuinely went wrong, not just in the desire to eat a hamburger but also in attempting to bypass the “system,” Sam needs to take it a step further. He must acknowledge not only that the craving for the hamburger was incorrect but also that his attempt to circumvent the “system” was detrimental to his relationship with G-d. He needs to understand that the rules are not there for blind obedience but to ensure a bond of trust and relationship with G-d. Now, there are two possibilities: he can repent out of fear of potential punishment from G-d, or he can repent out of love for G-d.
The choice Sam makes regarding his repentance will influence the consequences of the committed sin, as Reish Lakish emphasizes in Yoma 86b:3. He underscores the significance of repentance, where intentional sins of the penitent are considered as unintentional transgressions, supported by a verse from Hosea (14:2). Despite this, the Gemara notes Reish Lakish’s assertion that repentance is remarkable, counting intentional sins as merits, as mentioned in Ezekiel (33:19). The Gemara reconciles this by stating that repentance out of love transforms sins into merits, while repentance out of fear regards sins as unintentional transgressions. The manner in which Sam chooses to repent will thus impact the outcomes of the committed sin.
But if Sam sincerely asks for forgiveness, he will receive it, for Psalm 51:19 teaches us:
זִ֥בְחֵ֣י אֱלֹקים֮ ר֤וּחַ נִשְׁבָּ֫רָ֥ה לֵב־נִשְׁבָּ֥ר וְנִדְכֶּ֑ה אֱ֝לֹקים לֹ֣א תִבְזֶֽה׃
True sacrifice to G-d is a contrite spirit;
G-d, You will not despise
a contrite and crushed heart.
And in Joel 2:13, we read
וְקִרְע֤וּ לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַל־בִּגְדֵיכֶ֔ם וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־יְ”הֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹקיכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־חַנּ֤וּן וְרַחוּם֙ ה֔וּא אֶ֤רֶךְ אַפַּ֙יִם֙ וְרַב־חֶ֔סֶד וְנִחָ֖ם עַל־הָרָעָֽה׃
Rend your hearts
Rather than your garments,
And turn back to the ETERNAL your G-d.
For [G-d] is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in kindness,
And renouncing punishment.
There are blogs I write in response to a question, a comment, or a quote that has caught my attention. This one came about following the question about Sam and McDonald’s. Initially, I thought, what should I do with this question? Because, of course, he should seek forgiveness; after all, it’s mainly about the intention, and the intention in this case was a conscious choice to commit a sin. However, I couldn’t manage to write a short blog about it because it would have been just that: yes, he should seek forgiveness if he genuinely means it. Until an event last week shed a different, a personal light on the question… and when G-d tests people, we are capable of passing that test. However, I failed.
One of the seven Noahide commandments is the prohibition of Eiver min hachai: the prohibition of eating meat from a living animal. This means that one should not consume the flesh of an animal while it is still alive. Further explanation of this can be found in our blogs The obligation to have mercy on an animal – What is the proper Torah approach for meat consumption by an observant Noahide? and Eiver min ha-Chai – The Prohibition of Meat of a Living Animal
An offshoot of this prohibition is that a Noahide can voluntarily choose to eat only kosher meat to ensure the proper slaughtering of the animal and to be certain that the animal is dead before consumption. I took on this voluntary commitment years ago and live by it quite strictly. In practical terms, this means that I order my meat from a kosher butcher who delivers it to my home. The distance that needs to be covered makes the meat even more expensive compared to supermarket meat, but a choice is a choice. It also means that when I go out to eat, it can be a challenge. Fortunately, vegetarian options or fish are more frequently available on menus nowadays, but the choice is often limited, and other offerings may be more tempting. But, as with everything, a choice is a choice, and then you shouldn’t complain but act. But sometimes, sometimes it goes wrong.
Several years ago, I was in Switzerland, and whatever I saw on the menu, it all had bacon until I noticed fried potatoes. So, I ordered that with some salad. When they brought the potatoes, you guessed it, there was bacon in them. I couldn’t resist the temptation but vowed afterward that it wouldn’t happen a second time. A good resolution but failed.
In the past two weeks, eating wasn’t so easy due to a kitchen renovation. After dealing with microwave meals, we decided to go to a Chinese restaurant instead of getting takeout and eating at home. When picking up food, I know exactly what I can and want to order, but, oh no, the menu at the restaurant itself was very different and had fewer options for me. But hey, I thought, a person can simply ask for what they want since it’s on the takeout menu, so they have those products. One of the things I asked for was tomato soup, and I had explicitly asked if it was vegetarian. Yes, was the answer.
After a long wait, the soup arrived, but after three bites, I noticed there was meat in it. But now that I had tasted the soup, I couldn’t stop; it was too delicious. That’s when you see how the Yetzer hara works. You’re already eating, you’ve waited a long time for it, the animal is already dead, you can eat this because you’ve taken the strictness of not eating upon yourself, etc. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t right by my standards; I knew that at that moment, I was harming my relationship with G-d, and yet I couldn’t stop. The worst part afterward was that I didn’t really regret what I hadn’t wanted to do. What to do?
The only thing a person, and therefore I, can do is pray to G-d. Explain that I couldn’t resist the temptation and that it tasted good. Apologize for not feeling enough regret about it and ask for strength and resilience to keep my own promises in the future if I find myself in a similar situation. Next time, the potatoes, the soup, or whatever it is, will go back to the chef.
I had to think of a baraita from Rabbi Yosei bar Yehuda in Yoma 86b:10, which teaches:
When a person commits a transgression the first time, he is forgiven; a second time, he is forgiven; a third time, he is forgiven; but the fourth time, he is not forgiven, as it is stated: “Thus said the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, but for four I will not reverse it” (Amos 2:6). And it says: “All these things does G-d do twice or three times with a man” (Job 33:29).
My count is at two, and there won’t be a third, I have resolved. May Hashem help me in this.
By Angelique Sijbolts
With thanks to Rabbi W. van Dijk for the inspiring question
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