Friday, March 20, 2009

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Restraint

(Picture by R. Friedman)

While we’re on the subject of “tayvos achila,” I am reminded of the famous wedding of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz (also known as the Tzemach Tzaddik). During the wedding, it was noticed that his father-in-law, the famed Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin, wasn’t eating. The chosson’s father, Rabbi Chaim Kosover, went over to him inquire since the food was all absolutely kosher and the highest standards were met. But Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin quickly replied:

“There’s nothing wrong with the kashrus, chas v’shalom, but I have an arrangement. You see, before I came down to this world, my body met with my soul to prepare for their co-mission, but my soul refused to go.

My body demanded that the soul come, but my soul replied that he wasn’t interested in the lowly and disgusting bodily desires that it would be forced to accommodate. My body, seeing it had no choice, agreed to negotiate and ultimately accepted the conditions that in order for my soul to descend, it would never bother it with base desires – only with necessities. Therefore, unless I need food for survival, I cannot eat.”

Hearing this response, Rabbi Chaim Kosover also stopped eating. Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin immediately noticed the affect his words had and asked, “Do you have a similar arrangement?”

“No, no,” said Rabbi Chaim Kosover, “It’s just that now I finally understand something that has bothered me ever since I was young: I always wondered why on Friday night when we sing “Shalom Aleichem” to the angels that accompany us from shul that we send them away. We greet them with “Shalom”, we invite them in with “Boachem”, and we ask them to bless us with “Borchuni.” Then, we immediately send them away with “Tzeischem!” Why don’t we skip the last stanza and have them join us? But now, after sitting with you, I understand: When you are in the presence of an angel you just simply cannot eat!”

The sefer Maor VaShemesh offers another facinating perspective on the whole issue of achila d'kedusha. In his sefer, Rebbe Kalonymus Kalman of Cracow asked why everything had to be rushed during the first Pesach meal and why the Jewish people couldn't have just taken their time. After all, they was plenty of time from the korban until the time of their departure; what need was there for the great haste?

To answer this question, he takes us back to the Garden of Eden. The Torah tells us that Adam was warned (Bereishis 2:15-17):

וַיְצַו יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר: מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן, אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל. וּמֵעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע--לֹא תֹאכַל, מִמֶּנּוּ

And G-d commanded Adam, saying, "You may certainly eat from every tree in the Garden. But from the Tree of Knowledge of what is good and bad, you shall not eat from it...

There are those who debate what the specific fruit was that Adam and Chava ate, but that is only regarding what they actually ate – and not as to what the tree was – because from the verse it is clear that it refers to all trees and all fruits. The verse clearly allows Adam to eat from “every tree in the garden” – so the Tree of Knowledge was not a specific tree; it was any tree, or rather fruit thereof, that was eaten for the sake of its taste; for good or bad. G-d permitted all the trees, but eating “to know whether it is good or bad,” is what He prohibited.

This is also why Pesach was eaten in a hurried manner.

By eating slowly we savor the food and its taste. Klal Yisroel at yetzias mitzraim was experiencing redemption and rectification for everything that had been damaged since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. At this point, they needed to rectify this sin of eating for the sake of pleasure. Thus, eating the Korban Pesach in haste was necessary to achieve this tikkun.

Achila d'kedusha is indeed an extremely high level. Although most of us are not Adam HaRishon or even the Rizhiner, we can surely practice restraint on the level that we’re on. It is well known that in Yiddishkeit we believe that even small acts have significant consequences, and that were taught to live with the attitude that one single minor act may very well be the final straw to bring redemption on the entire universe. So, maybe skipping a course here and there wouldn’t be such a bad idea. As Rebbe Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch said, "The avoda of tayvos achila isn’t as hard as it seems, it can simply mean eating a bagel instead of blintz."


At March 21, 2009 at 9:20:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very illuminating -- and the story about the Rizhiner is gevaltig!


At March 21, 2009 at 11:15:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's important to note that the ascetic theme was balanced by Chazal by the theme of accepting G-d's blessings and enjoying them.

For example, we even see an opinion that we should in some cases increase our taivah for food. See for example Bavli Pesachim 99b where Rabbi Yehudah rules we should not eat from minchah time on Erev Shabbos until Shabbos in order to increase our taivah for food on Shabbos. Eating with enjoyment is part of the oneg.

At March 23, 2009 at 4:43:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the famed Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin"

I am curious as to why the transliteration 'Rizhin' is used here, instead of 'Ruzhin'. In the pronunciation used by Lubavitch, Stolin, Slonimer, Chassidim and others, that the author follows elsewhere, e.g. "Achila d'kedusha" and "Borchuni.", it should be Ruzhin. It is like with the Rebbe R. Zushe, brother of the Rebbe R. Elimelech. The derech of the Chassidic groups above, is to pronounce it R. Zushe, not Zisha, as others do. Same here.

At March 24, 2009 at 3:17:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, it's just that stuff like that doesn’t matter much to me. I've no doubt spelled it (and similar words) differently on almost every occasion, based on whatever I feel like at the moment - I don’t think I've thought more than a split second about it.
And I also would like to apologize in advance for the many times that phonetic spelling transgressions such as this take place, as they surely will, in the future.


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