By: Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui
Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat? Not much of a difference? Think again because the difference is from one extreme to the other.
According to Jewish law, one should avoid eating before his morning prayers. The reason is, so that the first thing, when we get up, we give our attention to G-d. If we first read the paper, watch the news, we have a hearty breakfast, do a couple of errands, and then pray, it is almost like G-d is an afterthought, way down on the list of priorities, and that’s disrespectful.
When Rebbetzin Rivkah (wife of Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) was eighteen, she fell ill and the physician ordered her to eat immediately upon awakening. She, however, did not wish to eat before praying, so she woke up even earlier and prayed—so that she could eat breakfast at the time she had been used to waking up beforehand. Understandably, her new schedule, with now reduced sleep time, did not cause her health condition to improve.
When her father-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) learned of his daughter-in-law’s behavior, he said to her:
“We must be healthy and strong… one should bring vitality and liveliness into the performance of his good deeds-mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful.”
He concluded: “You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of praying, than to pray for the sake of eating…”
When we eat for the sake of praying, we have taken a course, animalistic, natural behavior, and elevated it to a sublime spiritual act. Eating, now becomes an element and part of the equation of praying.
When a person prays and can’t wait until he has finished, so he can run to the ball game and have a cold beer or some other recreation to enjoy himself, the reverse of the previous scenario takes place. He has turned on its face, what should be an opportunity to reach the greatest of heights, and dragged it in the reverse direction, towards the mundane and materialistic.
A great Rabbi, on the subject of elevating the day and infusing it with spirituality, urged his community to think words of the Bible during business, to say words from the book of Psalms more often, whenever possible. They give strength to the day, and to what is otherwise a dull day. One of the members was indignant, “Rabbi, how is it possible to mix spirituality and business together,” he asked.
The Rabbi answered, “If it’s possible to think of business in the synagogue while praying, why it shouldn’t be possible to think of praying while in business?” Clearly the two, don’t have a problem with each other.
Once, two students who were smokers, where talking between themselves. One said, he was very disappointed that his teacher said, praying and smoking doesn’t go together. He felt he needed the smoke. The other student laughed, “funny you should mention that,” he said, ”Just today, I asked my teacher if I can pray while smoking, and he said, absolutely why not. You see, the two do go together, you just have to know how to ask.”
Our focus in life must be all the time, to elevate all that we do for a higher purpose. Then, we are always going heavenly. We must eat, we must sleep, we need vacations every so often, and when all this is done with the intention to make the world a better place, our lives take on, all the time, a blessed existence.
To read more articles from Rabbi Ezagui visit him at http://koshercaffeine.blogspot.com/