Mr. Ovadya and his son emerged from the hall of their
building and were about to head towards the beis
knesses for shacharis when they met their neighbor
Nimrod near the mailboxes. He was perusing a newspaper he had
"lifted" from one of the boxes before running off to work.
As soon as he saw them, he waved the paper high with a
triumphant shout that replaced a conventional morning
greeting, "See? Have you seen the results? Now our hands will
control the faucets! The party's all over. We'll dry you up
Mr. Ovadya's "Good morning" stuck in his throat. He didn't
want to start arguing with Nimrod before davening. But
to keep silent was equally beyond the question. He had
to say something.
"You know, Nimrod," he said, "that one has got to be very
careful before he tries to "dry up" anyone or anything. Even
the Hula Valley which they drained so many years ago turned
out to be an ecological folly. Do you know that they're
trying to turn the clock back and restore the wetlands and
bring back all the animals and plants that used to grow
there? And do you know who has to be the most careful when it
comes to dehydration? Those very people who suffer from
parched souls, themselves."
Mr. Ovadya and his son continued on their way, leaving behind
an open-mouthed Nimrod, too stunned to retort.
"Abba," asked the son, "what was that you said to him about
parched souls? What does that mean? Who in the world has
Mr. Ovadya tightened his grasp upon his tallis bag and
said, "Every living thing needs nourishment, right? Our
bodies need fuel and we feed them three times a day. The soul
which sustains the body also needs nourishment but since it
is wholly spiritual, it needs spiritual food. Prayer is that
spiritual fuel. When we provide the soul with the nourishment
it needs, it is lush and refreshed, full of vigor and
vitality. But when we starve our soul and don't give it the
required food that is vital to its continued maintenance and
subsistence, it becomes dehydrated and atrophied. It withers
away and its normal function dwindles to nothing.
Tzadikim are also full of vitality, fresh and
vigorous, desheinim vera'ananim, as Dovid Hamelech
said. Even in their old age, they are in prime shape and
continue to be productive."
"But, Abba," asked the son, "Mr. Nimrod doesn't look to me at
all withered. When we get up early for the sunrise
minyan, he's also up already, full of energy for his
daily jogging. He looks full of pep to me."
"You've got to differentiate between the body and the soul,
the physical and the spiritual in man. The body is the medium
that serves the spirit and soul, just like a car is a vehicle
that transports a person to his desired destination. It
certainly is not an end unto itself. Any car owner who
devotes many hours every day to the care of his car arouses
surprise, for he is investing time in a means and losing out,
meanwhile, on the actual use of his car, which is its
purpose. Our surprise at his preoccupation with his
automobile will increase if we learn that he really has
nowhere to go with it. For what purpose is he fiddling
around, polishing, checking all the things in the engine etc.
if there is no place he needs to get to?
"Our meeting up with Nimrod just now highlighted the
contrast. We are rushing in order to take care of spiritual
matters, whereas he is running for the sake of running, just
to keep his body fit. When we finish davening and
continue on our daily affairs, he will come home, take a
shower, massage his body with creams and lotions, and then
he'll rest a bit from the physical exertion. The big question
is: what is he going to do with a body that is fit as a
"If doctors unanimously agreed that those who go jogging
religiously every morning really lived longer, healthier
lives as opposed to those who got up early to daven,
that the latter had a shorter life span, G-d forbid, then we
would really have to seriously consider jogging and fit it
into our daily schedule.
"But strangely enough, the truth is exactly the opposite.
It's those who go out for physical fitness who are more prone
to cardiac arrest or strokes. We are always hearing reports
about the damage done by this devotion to exercise and
fitness, while other medical surveys show that those who rise
early for minyan enjoy greater longevity than their
"Man does not live for the sake of being healthy. He needs to
watch his health so that he can function and do those things
that are the main purpose of his life and for which he was
put here on earth. When such a goal is lacking and there is
no purpose, then all the effort invested in being hale and
hearty goes down the drain; it is needless and superfluous.
This is how Rabbenu Ovadya of Bartenura explains the
mishna in Pirkei Ovos that states, `If there is
no Torah, there is no flour.' Of what use is `flour' to a
person if he does not possess Torah? A person without Torah
is better off without the flour altogether."
The son asked again, "How is it that Nimrod is so involved
with cultivating himself and keeping fit that he doesn't
realize that he really lacks any purpose in life? How come he
isn't aware of his condition?"
"You're asking a difficult question. The soul should be
demanding its rights, so why doesn't its master hear its
shouts of hunger? The answer is that all those Nimrods out
there are continuously preoccupied in stifling the internal
bitterness of their souls and stilling their cry for food
with substitutes. It's like a baby screaming with hunger. The
mother does not have time to feed it or may not have the food
ready, and she stuffs a pacifier into its mouth instead. That
rubber dummy has no vitamins or minerals or carbohydrates to
satisfy the child. It's a stopgap, a deception to temporarily
quiet the natural hunger.
"And this is exactly what the Nimrods do to their spirits and
souls. The difference is that the mother only does this
temporarily, until the cereal has had time to cool off, while
the Nimrods do it throughout the course of their lives.
"The Nimrod society has nice-sounding names to support their
deception and keep up the facade. A window-shopping outing is
called `food for the soul.' Black folk songs are referred to
as `spirituals,' and in general they consider music as food
for the soul. Public sing-alongs are cathartic, they
maintain; they cleanse the soul. Concerts are uplifting,
purifying, ennobling. And this is how they quiet their
consciences, how they feed their starving souls.
"As proof of the deception and substitute of this sort of
`food' we can quickly point to the use to which the Nazis put
music. In their horrendous death camps, they would often hold
concerts and musical recitals. This so-called spiritual
uplifting did not deter in any way the officers from carrying
out their barbaric, inhuman acts in the course of the
following day. Perhaps, it gave release to their beastliness
through the catharsis to be vented on their hapless
"A different tactic to stifle the wails of a hungry infant is
to distract him by sounds and shouts, drumming and loud
music. This ploy is employed by the Nimrods through raucous
`music' that threatens to deafen the eardrums and curdle the
soul to distraction so that the real hunger is all but
forgotten. This result is equally achieved by an endless
barrage of political polemics, news broadcasts every half
hour and in-depth analyses of which soccer team has the best
chance of winning the whatever.
"These activities of boggling the mind and desensitizing the
senses also semi-paralyze the hunger mechanism of the soul.
There are other ways and wiles of substitute satisfaction
through `cultural activities,' entertainment and diversion
which are designed precisely to divert the soul from finding
genuine satisfaction, just like the baby's pacifier plugs him
up and makes an unprotesting `dummy' out of him."
"And what is the real food for the soul?"
"Man resembles a tree. The true nourishment of a tree comes
from the ground from which it grows, in which its roots are
embedded. A tree that has been uprooted from its source
quickly dries up. And even if you were to paint its leaves
green and give its bark a varnish finish, it will continue to
"The soul, too, needs a constant lifeline supply from its
source and origin.
"The One Who created the soul is the One Who established what
food will nourish it. In the world of the spirit, the world
of Truth, one will be able to clearly see which were the
emaciated souls that were shriveled by their masters through
lack of proper soul food, those misguided people who withheld
the only natural nourishment which can sustain a soul."