As part of its discussion about the size of a loaf that can be used for an Eruv, today’s daf (Eruvin 83b) examines the law of ‘Challah’ which, in the time of the Beit HaMikdash, was the portion of dough donated on a daily basis (or whenever bread was made) to the Kohen and is now symbolically separated from dough in homes and bakeries around the world.
Specifically, we are taught that the quantity of dough from which ‘Challah’ must be taken (which, in modern measurements is 2.2 kg) is derived from the ‘Omer’ of מן (manna) provided to Bnei Yisrael six days a week (with a double portion provided on a Friday) during their 40-year sojourn through the wilderness.
With this in mind, we are then taught that ‘someone who eats approximately this amount of food on a daily basis is someone who is healthy and blessed; someone who eats more than this is a glutton, and someone who eats less is likely to have a problem with their digestive system’. From here we learn that just as our ancestors survived on a ‘Omer’ of food for their daily sustenance, so too should we.
However, while various commentaries acknowledge the importance of maintaining a consistent diet and not to either overeat or undereat, both Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Chatam Sofer in his commentary on the Gemara) and Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein (Torah Temimah on Bemidbar 15:20 note 43) reference stories in the Torah where it would appear that those involved ate, or prepared, more than an Omer per person. For example, the Chatam Sofer notes that both Moshe & Aharon participated in the meal hosted by Yitro (see Shemot 18:12) – which implies that they consumed more than an Omer that day, while Rabbi Epstein points out that Avraham & Sarah prepared far larger quantities than an Omer for the guests who came to visit (see Bereishit 18:6).
In terms of their answers, Chatam Sofer (on the basis of other Gemarot in Brachot 39b and Shabbat 119b) explains that when a person participates in a special or festival meal, eating more than an Omer is not considered to be gluttonous. Contrasting this, Rabbi Epstein answers his question by explaining that the precise words of the Gemara were ‘someone who eats more than this is a glutton’, which he interprets to mean that while an Omer was the daily ration of food for the people of the wilderness, sufficient food intake differs from person to person. Still, once a person has eaten what they need and are full, anyone ‘who eats more than this is a glutton’. Given this, since Avraham & Sarah did not know how much food their guests needed to eat, they prepared a larger meal.
Yet while these explanations may be sound, there remains a large gap between even the most liberal reading of the statement ‘someone who eats more than this is a glutton’, and the food culture (and the wider health culture) in various Jewish communities. In fact, it is somewhat ironic that the very food which reminds us of the specific daily quantities of food (i.e. Challah) is often one of the major culprits in contributing to the overeating culture in much of our community.
Ultimately, if we want to be ‘healthy and blessed’ we should think very carefully both about what we eat and how much we eat because, as the Chafetz Chaim once remarked, ‘the entire Torah is dependent upon the mitzvah of taking care of your body’.