One way I’m trying to improve my Hebrew is to read the backs of breakfast cereal boxes. This has helped me pick up some new words, along with some insights into the Israeli psyche.
Crunchim is (are?) made of whole-grain wheat and oats in the shape of small cylinders that look like Cheerios with high self-esteem. They are billed as a “tasty way to watch your weight!”
The product introduction on the box emphasizes Crunchim’s whole-grain character, that features: “no added sugar, nutritional characteristics that help satisfy hunger and give you the strength to watch your weight and lead a balanced and healthy life.”
Those last words lead to another paragraph with spiritual and even existential overtones. The heading reads:
You choose the goal
Crunchim will give you the power to succeed
Thus primed to give the cereal a rousing ovation, you go on to this:
It is important for all of us to succeed. All the time, and in all sorts of tasks we set for ourselves. When we succeed, a pleasant feeling of satisfaction creeps over us, accompanied by a slight smile, and we feel like champions! A balanced diet gives us the needed energy, improved concentration, physical strength, and high spirits to help us succeed in every challenge.
These stirring, even poetic, words are accompanied by bright photos of waving wheat, undulating oats, and a large, white conch shell on a sandy beach at sunrise. I assume that the conch is meant to conjure the prospect of communing with nature during a morning run and does not imply—since the cereal is kosher—that they put snails in with the whole grains.
I hope you are as impressed as I am by the wonderful things Crunchim can do and by its claims to improve even parts of life that happen in the afternoon and evening. Let’s look at these claims, each with Rashi:
- “It is important for all of us to succeed.” Really? All of us? What about us mediocrities?
- “All the time…” All the time?! Can’t I take off and not succeed once in a while?
- “…and in all sorts of tasks we set for ourselves.” Do I have to succeed in all of them? Can’t I fail at a few, just for variety?
- “…to help us succeed in every challenge.” Is this the opening event in the Jerusalem decathlon, or is this breakfast?
I love reading ad copy because marketers are so incisive at analyzing, at the deepest level, what customers are after. They know that the Crunchim target audience not only wants to watch their weight and stay healthy, but also that they want to do these things in order to be winners. This implies that life is a race, or a tournament, or whatever martial metaphor you like. So eat those oats, get out there, and just do it! (You may be old enough to remember people saying that Elmer was really “feeling his oats,” though that was back when you were more likely to encounter a frisky horse than take a sunrise run on the beach.)
Part of my problem as a Jew hopelessly sunk in the galut mentality is thinking of Hebrew as a language of spiritual uplift and moral exhortation. What you would read in Hebrew usually told you to study and pray, to take stock of your actions and purify your soul. Of course, you didn’t necessarily do these things—you said them in shul and went to work—but in the back of your mind was the thought that if you ever found time and energy, that’s what you should do.
This meant that the ultimate goal of life in Hebrew, what it meant to succeed, was to perfect your soul. You could also try to be a conventional kind of winner, of course. You could eat Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions, but that was in English.
Modern Israel has indeed produced a new Jew, with new talents and aspirations, and with a new language to match. Seen this way, Crunchim turn (turns?) out to be nothing less than another triumph of the Zionist enterprise.
Personally, however, I am getting on a bit for all this competitiveness. I can still try to succeed once in a while, but certainly not all the time.
So instead I will have breakfast and read the side of the cereal box to review the words I’ve learned. (I can’t wait for the chance to work me’uzan into a sentence.) Because Crunchim are tasty, a small smile of self-satisfaction will creep over my lips as I realize that I am enjoying myself and also watching my weight. That will be success enough for one day.
Then I will take a nap.