Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5763 - June 18, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Optimal Nourishment

by Yochonon Dovid

The intercity bus forges ahead, its engine humming, swallowing up the kilometers beneath its speeding wheels. Almost all of the seats are occupied. It is interesting to see what people do with their time during this journey. Most of them stare blankly ahead, or show a passing interest in the scenery flashing by their window, at the flitting lampposts, the traffic streaming along the opposite lane. Some take the opportunity to grab a snooze, lulled by the monotonous but soporific hum of the engine and the rocking motion of the bus.

Our attention is caught by Assaf, who is leaning forward, his eyes riveted upon a small Tehillim held in his hand. His mouth murmurs fervently; his body sways gently back and forth, and he has also seemed to catch the attention of his bareheaded seatmate. The latter steals an occasional glance at Assaf's face and even seems to attempt to read some passages in the small text held in his hand, but without success.

After some time, Assaf closes it with a kiss, puts it into an envelope and buries it in a pocket. His seatmate takes the opportunity to engage him in conversation.

"What prayer were you just saying now? I know about shacharit, but it's afternoon now. What were you saying?"

Assaf replies like a teacher instructing a student. "You are right. There are three established daily services but I was just now reciting psalms which were composed by Dovid Hamelech, also known as the Sweet Poet of Israel. During his stormy and very difficult life, Dovid personally experienced all the hardships and vicissitudes of life that man can possibly undergo. The collection of psalms and prayers in his book suit every possible situation in which a Jew can find himself during his lifetime. Saying these chapters is not a fixed prayer. A Jew can recite them at any time he so wishes, whenever his soul feels the need for it."

Seeing his neighbor listening receptively, Assaf continues, "Reciting these psalms is a form of touching base, so to speak, like when an astronaut goes into outer space on some mission. He makes periodic contact with his home base and talks with the commander of the project. Saying Tehillim is not an obligatory report made at preordained scheduled times. The Tehillim-sayer tells about himself, his problems, his hopes and aspirations, and expresses the innermost feelings of his heart. He tells of his connection with the One Who sent him and his trust in His support and help.

"The Jew after his recital of Tehillim is not the same as he was before he said the psalms. He has poured out his very soul before his Creator, thrust his burden upon Hashem and cast off his difficulties and problems. He has strengthened his firm feeling that there is a surveying eye above him and a vigilance over all his actions. He is stronger, fortified to continue on along his path in life. His spirit and soul have been recharged and he is filled with new energy and truth. How can a person not avail himself of this marvelous procedure, even if it is not obligatory at established times?"

A smile spread over his seatmate's face when he said, "I must hand it to you that you know how to describe this activity in glowing terms and to delineate the emotional impact it has upon the sayer. But let me tell you the truth; I never felt the need to say those psalms and I can't say that I'm missing out on anything because of that lack."

Assaf carried on without directly relating to his neighbor's confession. "A Jew reminds himself each morning, even before he says his morning prayers, that Hashem has given him a pure soul, with which he began his life's journey. At the end of that journey, he will relinquish his soul and allow it to return to its Divine Source.

"It is no simple matter for the soul to return to the base it left seventy years before. A comparison must be made between the soul that embarked on its journey, and the one that returned after its long sojourn. The responsibility lies with the person who received that soul to serve him. Can one imagine that the astronaut journeying in a spaceship would forget his point of origin? That he would inactivate the radio transmitter and not feel any need to connect to his home base until the day he finally returns from his long journey?

"A person does not forget that he needs to eat. His contracting stomach broadcasts signals of distress, pangs of hunger that increase to the point that he can no longer ignore them. The concern of nourishing his body is relegated to an infallible warning system that will not allow a person to forget his duty to feed his body.

"The soul is spiritual and delicate. It expects its owner to feel the responsibility to supply it with its optimal spiritual fare. If he occupies himself with corporal matters to the point of totally forgetting his hungry soul, the inevitable will happen: the soul will weaken, become emaciated, shrivel up. Its voice will fade and waste away; it will become atrophied and paralysis will spread throughout it like an organ that is in disuse and where the flow of blood is obstructed.

"The soul cries out, but the owner who has not fostered an awareness in his soul has lost the ability to hear the sound of that voice. Such a person, if asked: `You are so involved with bodily matters -- but what do you do for your soul?' will simply scoff at the question and brush it off as a childish joke. And so, he will continue the journey of his life saddled with a musselman, atrophied, desensitized soul."

The seatmate did not smile. He asked in all seriousness, "And what is the nourishment for the soul?"

Assaf answered him immediately, "The wise man of the Kuzari says that the value of prayer to the soul is equal to the function of food to the body. Prayer purifies the soul, elevates it and joins it to the exalted spiritual world from whence it came. This is what prayer does for the soul. Man is a marvelous cohesion of body and soul, but their respective sources of nourishment are very different. While the material body requires physical food, the spiritual soul replenishes and fortifies itself, it recharges its stores of purity, from the involvement of its owner in prayer. This binds it once more to the Source from whence it originated.

"The three daily services supply the requisite nourishment for the soul, but the more spiritual a person is, and the more he seeks to improve his soul, the more he tries to feed it with better, higher- quality nourishment. One hundred blessings of thanks and praise to the King of the world are scattered throughout the day of a Jew, and the Book of Tehillim is on hand whenever he wishes to avail himself of it. These serve to provide a person with the sustenance his soul needs.

"Such an exalted level for a person is not as inaccessible as one might think. A person does not control his physical reality to any full extent. You travel by bus, for example, and might find a comfortable seat as soon as you get on. On the other hand, you might see the bus pulling away from the bus stop and will have to wait for a long time for the next one, which will be packed and move slowly. Or you have to loosen a screw on some appliance. Sometimes it slips out easily, but sometimes it is stuck and rusted and all you succeed in doing is injuring your hand with the screwdriver. You put a pot on the stove to cook but are not in full control of how the food will turn out. There is nothing that one does that could not use a short prayer beforehand to help it become a successful act.

"In Bereishis it is told that when the world was still young and fresh, rain did not fall until Odom came along and prayed for it. Only then did vegetation begin to grow. The essence of man is his ability to pray. This is a hidden essence but it is expressed through his name `Odom.' The letter alef in the beginning of his name is the visible, apparent part of the name of the letter, while the lammed-fei are the unseen parts of the letter's name. With the second letter of Odom, dalet, the lammed- tof are the hidden letters of the name of dalet. And by the mem, the third letter in Odom's name, it is the second mem which is part of the name of that letter, but it is hidden in the spelling of the word. The hidden parts of the three letters of o-do-m -- the letters lammed, fei; lamed, tof; mem together form the word mispalel.

"Now, go home and think about what I said. Oh, and here is a gift for you," said Assaf, and handed his seatmate his copy of Tehillim in an envelope.

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