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10 Shevat 5762 - January 23, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
At Whose Table Do We Eat?

by S. Bilgrei

The Sefer Yetziroh links the month of Shevat with "le'ito," which means eating. This indicates that Shevat was chosen from all the months to perfect kedushas achilloh, which is also the foundation of Tu BeShevat.

What does "kedushas achilloh" mean? It mainly means eating lesheim Shomayim. The challenge of eating is to eat for the purpose of serving Hashem, and not for selfish reasons, such as the food is enticing or appealing. The vast variety in taste, texture and color is just a tool to bring us to greater awareness of the endless lovingkindness Hashem bestows upon us as reflected in the delectable delicacies in their dazzling multiplicity that He provides us with constantly.

The first one who failed to meet this challenge was Odom Horishon. The Torah relates that Hashem placed Odom in Gan Eden, which was a garden of fruit trees. He was allowed to eat from all the fruit trees except for one. The bottom line of Odom's sin was that he ate from the forbidden fruit for a selfish purpose, a purpose that was not Hashem's will. Then, as part of his punishment, he forfeited the privilege of getting his sole nourishment from fruit alone, as it states, "ve'ochalto es eisev hasodeh" -- you will eat the grass of the land (Bereishis 3,18). Odom had to eat pri ho'adomoh because he destroyed the kedusha of the fruit trees, which is on a higher spiritual level, so it could not be his only provider of sustenance.

Odom cried to Hashem, "Ani vechamori nochal mei'eivus echod?" -- Does this mean that I will be like my donkey and we will share the same tray of earthy food?

Odom was concerned because he knew that every one of the seven species of fruit that are associated with Eretz Yisroel inspires and influences man in an exalted way. For example, chitta is daas, giving us the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. In Gan Eden, bread of chitta grew in loaves on a tree. Odom feared that now he would be deprived of his special attribute of daas which set him apart from his donkey who has no bechiroh.

Therefore, Hashem explained, "Bezei'as apecho tochal lechem." You will eat bread of chitta and retain your special attribute of daas, but now it will first grow in stalks like a weed and you will have to exert yourself to prepare bread. As his spiritual grade declined, his physical level of existence declined as well.

This explains the concept of Tu BeShevat as focused on elevating fruit in particular. Because the original error was destroying the high spiritual element in fruit, we now attempt to restore the proper kedusha, especially to the shivas haminim, to merit the situation we enjoyed in Gan Eden previously.

Tu BeShevat is when we have to work on restoring the kedusha to food and to eating for its proper purpose. It is the Rosh Hashana for trees, marking the beginning of the year regarding terumos and ma'asros.

However, the day when all fruit trees are judged is actually Shavuos. It is on Shavuos that we brought the korbon of Shtei Halechem made from chitta.

What is the connection? Kabolas HaTorah is called "cheirus miyetzer hora" -- freedom from the yetzer hora. When we received the Torah we initially returned to the situation of Odom Horishon before his sin. The day on which this happened is the day that the fruit trees are judged to see if they are worthy of their purpose. The korbon of Shtei Halechem is even proof that bread once grew as the fruit of a tree. There is a gemora in Kesuvos that says, "Asido chitta shetitamer kedekel" (Kesuvos 111b). In the future, once again chitta will grow like dates on a tree and we will pick the loaves of bread like fruit.

How can we properly fulfill the requirement of the tremendously opportune day of Tu BeShevat to perfect kedushas achilloh? Can we honestly say that our sole purpose in eating is to fulfill Hashem's will, with no selfish enjoyment whatsoever?

The baalei mussar, many decades ago, were constantly troubled by this prospect for a very valid reason. They found sources in Chazal that say that when one enjoys this world, he actually eats up his mitzvos.

The Chofetz Chaim illustrates the point with a devastating parable.

A King had a servant from a family that had served the King for many generations. One day the King decided to free this family from their duties to him and to grant them their independence. The servant then requested a salary for his long history of steady service. Said the King, "Who supported and provided for you and your family all these years? Take into account housing, food, medical bills, education and clothing -- and then see if your demands are justified."

When we take into consideration how many times we enjoy breathing air every day, our homes, our health, our families, our full refrigerators -- and all in such a beautiful setting of an expansive, starry sky, flowers, trees, and background music of birds chirping, it should worry us that perhaps we are consuming all our mitzvos. Rav Yisroel Salanter used to say that with one Shabbosdiga tzimmes we could eat up our whole Olom Habo. The world is a very expensive hotel.

If this reality worried the great sages of the past, how much more so should we be concerned, when the whole lifestyle today revolves around enjoyment. The bread has to be fresh, the clothing up-to-date, ice cream comes in 48 flavors, and life has to be interesting and exciting or otherwise we are bored.

In our generation, the greatest minds invest all their talents in making life more enjoyable. A goy enjoys Olom Hazeh because it is his Olom Habo as well. Does this mean that we exchange our Olom Habo for Olom Hazeh as well? How can we effectively preserve our mitzvos to bring us the endless true reward in the World to Come?

HaRav Shimshon Pincus zt"l offers a solution. He describes a similar situation, where he enjoyed delicious, nutritious meals daily, as well as shelter, education and many luxuries -- but he never got a bill and will never get one. That was in his parents' home. Even as an adult he could enter freely, help himself to all kinds of delicacies - - and he was never charged for it and never will be.

Likewise, if we just spend one moment thinking and reflecting about Whose world we are living in and enjoying, we will find ourselves in our Tatti's home. Hashem will never send you a bill.

How can we honestly place ourselves in Hashem's embrace? Chazal say, "bemachshovoh isbariroh" -- the mind clarifies and makes the selection.

So, how can we direct our minds to realize our true situation?

Simply by investing a moment of concentration before making a brochoh to refer all the impending enjoyment to its correct Address. If we admit and appreciate that all the things that we enjoy come directly from Hashem, then we are actually at Hashem's table and we will never get a bill. The mind clarifies and selects.

However, if we are so caught up in enjoying ourselves that we have no time to make the brochoh properly, then we forfeit the privilege of being in Hashem's company. If the cake itself is what gives us enjoyment, then of course we have to pay for it.

But if it is clear that we are enjoying Hashem Who gave it to us, then it's all on Hashem. By utilizing machshovoh, by thinking properly, we can eat at Hashem's table bikedushoh and turn our tables to the service of Hashem to merit mishulchon Govohah kozochu of eating in an exalted manner while preserving our mitzvos to enjoy them eternally.

The challenge is overcoming the yetzer hora who tries to confound us by making our minds wander at the most opportune time when making a brochoh. Tu BeShevat is the time allocated to redirect our thoughts to the correct Address, to find that we can enjoy the magnificent world with its endless variety and simultaneously restore the kedusha that was violated, so that we may once again merit Gan Eden mikedem.

Chazal teach us this habit, "Seuda shehano'osecho mimenu, meshoch yodcho heimeno" -- if there is a meal that you enjoy, pull your hand away from it. Many people mistakenly think this means not to eat it. Tzadikim say it means to stop for a second and use your machshovoh and not just your hand.

Don't just "dig in" impulsively. Just as the physical digestive system is a process of selection, sending each individual component to its proper address, the spiritual part of eating, which is enjoyment, must be referred to its destination as well, with a moment of thought. Hashem gave us the mitzva of brochos to help keep us on track. To stop and appreciate Hashem's love and chesed in every morsel of food, makes all the difference.

This is a habit to acquire in all aspects of mundane activities as well. Before putting on a tie, stop and think for a second: who created the multitude of colors that decorate the tie so pleasingly? A person who trains himself to think, can bring everything back to Hashem, transforming insignificant physical entities to spiritual eternity.

Perhaps tzadikim -- once -- were able to eat completely lesheim Shomayim, a most difficult assignment in our days and never easy.

But in our generation we are blessed with endless opportunities to refer gratitude and appreciation to our true Benefactor, for the abundant wealth we enjoy. By doing so we thereby reveal His Glory and fulfill our purpose as Am Yisroel. The name Yisroel is comprised of the words, shir (K)eil -- to sing the great praises of Hashem. Bemachshovoh isbariroh -- if we stop and think it will bring us back home to our Father's table.

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