April 24, 2024
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April 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Emotional Food Feeds the Physical

At the end of our parsha, the Torah discusses the incident of when the body of a murder victim is found lying in the open, upon which the elders of the nearest town perform the eglah arufa ritual. Part of that process is the elders proclaiming that they did not kill this man (21:7), which Rashi explains that they essentially meant to say that “we did not see him (leaving the city) and sent him off without food and without escort.” The implication from Rashi seems to be that if the elders did — in fact — see this man and let him depart, neglecting to afford him either “food” or either “escort,” this could’ve have led to his demise, and they would’ve been held accountable for his murder.

If, in theory, the guest was neglected escort, why would that result in his murder to the point that they would be responsible for it? After all, we may be discussing a case where they did — in fact — take good care of him by feeding him well, giving him what to drink, perhaps even affording him a place to rest, etc. Re-energized and with “fresh legs,” shouldn’t that have been enough to fend off potential highway thugs or other threatening people lurking in the streets?

So one might say that if the guest was fully escorted back to his city, then that could’ve prevented the murder, and neglecting to do this could have resulted in the unfortunate and the elders would be responsible for that. However, the Maharal (Chiddushei Aggadot, Sota 45b) seems to imply that it’s not expected to accompany the guest the entire way, but only part of the way. Moreover, the Maharsha (Sota, 45b) brings in the name of the sefer “Yafeh Mareh” who seems to indicate that the amount of escort to which we are referring to in this context would be just four amot — which is relatively quite a short distance. The implication, therefore, seems to be that if they accompanied him even for just this distance, he would have been able to prevail over dangerous people on his way back to his city, but if they neglected to do so then he would have lacked this ability. Is a simple lack of escort enough to make it or break it? Would an escort really make him capable of prevailing over predatory people and the absence of it, make him potentially vulnerable and incapable?

We can, perhaps, suggest that the concept of escorting a person when they take leave, carries within it the unspoken message that this person is important — that he matters, that he deserves respect and that he’s a “VIP!” An escort can thus empower a person; it can fortify and amp up one’s esteem, confidence and overall belief in one’s capabilities, and hence, a lack of it could have caused a lessened sense of belief in oneself. Therefore, neglecting to have an escort can, perhaps, result in him being (i.e., feeling) unable to overpower his potential assaulter.

But doesn’t taking care of someone physically show you care about him and that he is important and capable? Why can the neglect of an escort stir such a reaction — if he was potentially just shown how much he was cared for by being given, perhaps, even the best foods and drinks and maybe even, the most comfortable mattress in the house!?

We can suggest that while this may be true, however, a “person” isn’t a physical entity. His body is what needs food and rest. But “the person” himself is his inner being. That is the essence of a person. The body is like the clothing of his real self.

Therefore, while it may be true that taking care of someone physically shows you care about them and that they are important; however, on a deeper level, the recipient may not register it in this way because the food and accommodations spoke mainly to his body, but not to his inner being. The message was clouded by a physical medium that pertained to his physical self. However, when a person is escorted and is shown this level of respect and admiration in a context that is — for the most part — isolated from receiving physical care, that directly touches his essence and his true self. This is “food” for the integral being of a person. Without this “sustenance,” a person might not have been as capable of overcoming the potential murderer in his path, and the elders would have been responsible.

Yet, we can persist and ask: what does one thing have to do with the other? The potential encounter on his way back is a physical battle, and shouldn’t that depend on physical strength? If that’s so, and assuming this guest may be fueled physically, being well-fed and rejuvenated from his stay may indicate that he’s physically capable! Why does it matter, if he doesn’t feel too good about himself — if after all, he may be physically fit and strong?!

Perhaps, we see from here, that emotional sustenance can directly impact upon how a person will perform physically and practically. One may “carb load” for the upcoming marathon, but with the right load of confidence and belief in oneself, one might be more capable of making it. Fortifying the esteem of a person isn’t just good to do for its own sake; but we, perhaps, see from here, that it has very practical benefits: it can literally strengthen the actual physical makeup of a person and, ultimately, help him be more accomplished in a physical and practical sense.

Not only that — but maybe, we can extend this idea. For we’re dealing with dangerous people, who may be armed and may be stronger than the average person. Even if this guest was fully fed physically and emotionally, does he — anyways — really stand a chance against such people? Why then, would the elders therefore have been responsible if they simply didn’t escort him, and why if they did, could it have made such a difference?

We might be able to, therefore, deduce that emotionally fortifying someone doesn’t just remove a potential negative and now “restore” them, and make them capable of accomplishing normative things. Rather, it can — perhaps — even carry the potential to strengthen someone to the point where he can even perform outstanding accomplishments, and overpower and overcome unusual feats, for example like menacing highway thugs and thieves.

To that end, I heard a fascinating story from Rabbi Elimelech Biderman: There was a boy who had a serious illness from birth which kept recurring. Eventually, he recovered and made a seudat hoda’ah and invited a certain doctor that was involved with him in his times of illness. At the seudah, the boy (at that point already married) shared his story: “When I was in the hospital fighting for my life, I overheard the doctors speaking amongst themselves. They were all saying there is no hope. That it’s over… But, there was one doctor who is here tonight that believed differently. Of all the hopeless remarks, he told the rest of the doctors: ‘You should all know, that despite this boy’s dying condition, there is still some hope for him — because I see that this boy has a will to live, and he has a certain happiness and good spirit about him.’ When I heard those words, it gave me such strength — a newfound vigor and confidence to battle and fight my way through the horrible illness, and baruch Hashem, I made it.” That doctor then got up to speak, and said, “This story is completely true, but I just want to add one detail. When I said that this boy has a good spirit and will, I wasn’t referring to you. I meant the other boy on the other side of the room; but for you, I didn’t think spirit would help — that’s how bad your situation was.”

Even though it wasn’t even intended towards him, what this boy heard gave him confidence, hope and belief in his abilities to overcome this persistent and life threatening illness. The emotional sustenance directly impacted and changed his physical abilities. Not just to the average, but to the point where — against all odds — he was even able to triumph over an unusually difficult physical challenge.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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