Friday, February 15, 2008

First Work, Then Eat!

Rav Tzaddok HaKohen zt”l taught that the usual times for eating the first meal of the day indicate something far greater than appetite. Eating has the power to fill a person with arrogance; it actually increases the substance of the person, and if he eats before prayer, he could make the mistake of thinking that he is the source of his own vitality. This is why it is so important to pray first, so that we recognize the source of our sustenance and life-force. Only then does eating fill us with humility rather than conceit. So the usual meal-time for average people was four hours into the day, or six for scholars. Agripas ate at the ninth hour—for it was only then that he had finished all the spiritual work he needed to do before the meal.

As a young man, the Imrei Emes zt”l traveled by train to Biala to visit his father-in-law. During the entire journey, Rav Avrohom Mordechai studied his Gemara without pause. He happened to share his carriage with a young Jew who did not appear to be a chossid. The fellow glanced repeatedly at the masmid with unconcealed admiration, marveling at his diligence. “I’ve never seen such intense hasmadah in my life!” he remarked to himself.

Just before midnight, Rav Avrohom Mordechai seemed to remember something, took a look at his pocket watch, and exclaimed, “It’s nearly chatzos!” He laid aside his precious sefer, took out a sandwich, washed and quickly polished it off.

The stranger took this in with surprised distaste: How could a talmid chochom unceremoniously drop his studies and eat so ravenously?

Rav Avrohom Mordechai seemed to read the young man’s mind. “The truth is that I am not at all hungry. My mother gave me this sandwich with instructions to eat it for supper today. As soon as I saw the time, I rushed to finish it quickly—for how could I disobey my mother?!”

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