Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Teves 5762 - December 26, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Parched Soul

by Yochanan David

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 altogether!"

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 dried souls?"

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 fiddle?

"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 jogging peers.

"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 victims!

"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 wither away.

"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."

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