Photo Credit: Jewish Press

By the time you read this, perhaps the world’s problems will have been solved. Trump’s deal of the century will have brought peace to the Middle East; Iran will no longer pose a nuclear threat; anti-Semitism will have disappeared from the face of the earth; the coronavirus will have faded away and the Israeli elections will be over.

Or not.

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Meanwhile, it’s still crazy enough out there to give us all a whopping headache and a sorrowful heartache. So what can a person do to find some semblance of inner serenity or a bit of joy?

Obviously, we reach for a bar of chocolate. Or a chocolate chip cookie. Or a chocolate truffle. Or chocolate ice cream (with chocolate syrup, of course). Or a swig of sweet, chocolate liqueur. Chocolate covered candies will also suffice if nothing else is available, although sensible people see to it that there is always an emergency supply of chocolate tucked safely away in some out-of-the-way drawer.

I was astounded to find that there are over 15,000,000 (that’s million) websites discussing the virtues of chocolate including the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Heart Association, to mention only two. (I have no room here for more.) In addition, Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate annually and spend twenty-two billion dollars a year on chocolate products. If so many people eat and spend such staggering amounts on something as trifling as chocolate, there must be more to it than meets the eye (or mouth). So as a chocolate lover myself, I’d like to share a few bits and pieces of information I uncovered.

Lest you are under the mistaken impression that chocolate is only for chocoholics, I am pleased to inform you that since ancient times, for more than 2,000 years, the seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree have been used to cure over one hundred different diseases and conditions. Their fame spread from the earliest known major civilizations in Mesoamerica – the Mayans and Aztecs – via the Spanish conquistadors, into Europe in the 16th century.

The benefits of these brown beans are simply astounding. Chock full of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients, they are good for your skin, brain, heart and general welfare. As hard brown squares or in powdered cocoa form, they can tweak your brain, improve your math, lighten your mood and possibly help lower cholesterol levels. They restore flexibility to arteries and prevent white blood cells from sticking to the walls of your blood vessels. Like red wine, chocolate has the potential to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve blood flow. How’s that for a mere bean?

Please note that the benefits are associated with dark chocolate although personally, I prefer the lighter colored milk chocolate. It tastes better and it makes me feel good. (White chocolate, while delicious, is not really chocolate. It’s made of cocoa butter, not the bean.)

They say that chocolate can help you avoid sunburn. (Don’t ask me how. You’ll have to look that one up yourself.) And as you grow older, if you eat enough, it may help improve your memory. I have yet to experience that particular benefit, but perhaps I have to up my daily dose. Chocolate may even help alleviate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, but that shouldn’t be surprising. If something makes you happy, helps you live longer and gives you an immediate energy boost, of course you’ll function better!

Most amazing is that chocolate can help you lose weight. Eating a piece of dark chocolate twenty minutes before and five minutes after a meal can cut your appetite by an impressive fifty percent – wouldn’t it great if eating a piece of the sweeter (i.e. more sugar laden…) milk chocolate could do the same!

I have a collection of family albums dating from our earliest beginnings all the way to the present with our own kids, grandkids and great-grandchildren. They all share one recurring image. A small child with a wide, euphoric smile is sitting on the floor, or in a high chair (or worse, in bed!), as he or she happily indulges… in chocolate. Oblivious of smeared hands, face, bibs, pajamas, clothing, surrounding walls or furniture – all of which may also be covered in a beautiful, rich, earthy brown hue – they are in another world. I believe it’s called Chocolate Heaven. Even at a very young age, humanity instinctively understands that some things are bad, some are good, and some are simply… well, simply divine.

So I ask you…. if you are offered something that keeps you healthy, helps you live longer, ups your brain power, gives an energy boost, promotes gorgeous skin, is a known stress reliever, makes you happy and tastes so good, what can possibly be bad?

If you’re still not convinced, consider the following: The gematriya for shokolad (chocolate) in Hebrew is 446. That’s the equal of “chesed sheh’bachesed.” (You can take out your calculator and check the math if you like.) That’s the trait we aspire to on the first day of counting the Omer. The desire to affect goodness, love, kindness and generosity in the world. Imagine! All this immortalized in a single square of chocolate! What greater kabalistic blessing can one aspire to?

Another numerical doozy, although on a more mundane level, is that shokolad also tallies up to “meah shanim” – one hundred years. Jews normally bless each other with one hundred and twenty years, but believe me, one hundred healthy years is nothing to sneer at.

Remember Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and his son in the cave? They existed on sweet, chocolate-like carobs for eighteen years. Talk about mega nutrition!

So if you have a taste for that heavenly brown bean, go for it. Just remember, don’t overdo it. We have to keep that yetzer hara under control and he’s got a really weak spot for that velvety, brown, ambrosial bean. B’tay’avon!

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