Some years ago, I overheard two women conversing. One commented on the other’s appearance: “You look fat.” I was shocked! How could someone actually be callous enough to say that to someone? Even more shocking was the fact that the woman about whom it was said was smiling and thanked her! In the 1980’s I’d heard people say “you look bad,” when they mean “you look good,” and of course in late 20-teen language something that’s really ‘great’ is “sick.” But fat was a new one on me. I couldn’t control myself and I interjected. “Excuse me?! What did she say???”
The recipient of the comment laughed at my consternation. “She didn’t say I was fat. She said I was PHAT, P-H-A-T.” Sensing that my confusion wasn’t subsiding, she explained, “It stands for pretty hot and tempting.” In other words, it was a compliment.
Originally it was probably a playful jibe wherein it sounded like you were insulting someone by saying they were “fat” but you could then extricate yourself by explaining you were spelling it with a ph- instead of an f-. An online dictionary defines PHAT as excellent, as in, “That pizza smells phat!” In other words: pretty hot and tempting.
This incident came to mind recently when I wanted to give my daughter a treat. My wife and I had gone to a dinner meeting and ordered a dessert plate that included such delicacies as fried Oreos (most likely not Oreos but some similar-looking pareve Jewish sandwich cookie, I’m sure) and fried banana spring rolls. The next evening we had to go out again and I took these leftover items out of the fridge for my daughter to have for her dessert.
The funny thing, though, was that as yummy as they had been the night before, they now seemed rather gross (pardon the graphic language.) What had seemed so decadent and tempting when it was fresh and hot now seemed cold and not like anything I’d want to eat.
A hot pizza right out of the oven is mouth-watering and you might think you can eat the whole thing, but when you let it sit in the box on the counter for a couple of hours it turns a bit grayish and no longer looks nearly as appetizing, if at all. It seems that when the heat is gone, so is much of the desire.
In truth, this is what happens with most temptations. Our human inclinations, most often under the guidance of the Yetzer Hara, thrive on passion, heat, and freshness. When something is new to us, we’re excited about it and we want it. We want it now. All of it. We could swallow that whole pizza in five minutes, it looks so good. When it cools? Not so much.
The Aishes Yefas To’ar, the war bride a Jewish soldier brings back, must wait in his home for a month before he marries her. The excitement and freshness wears off; the heat of passion dissipates, and he is able to see the desire for what it is, something he really wants nothing to do with.
Most aveiros that come our way have the same antidote. Wait five minutes. Wait an hour. See if the desire is still as strong. Often it isn’t. Often the object of our passion is now revealed to be rather unappetizing.
Torah and mitzvos seem to suffer from the same symptoms though. When what we do is just go through life by rote, doing the same mitzvos day after day, without passion, without excitement, and without freshness, they are just as unpleasing to the eye.
This is exactly why Chazal say, “B’chol yom yihiyu b’ainecha kachadashim, every day the words of Torah should be like new to you.” We say each morning that Hashem, in His goodness, generates anew each day the acts of Creation. This is because He wants us to find excitement each day in serving Him and utilizing the beautiful world He has given us to work with.
Each day when we open our eyes, the world should be like a gift we’re unwrapping for the first time. We should have the excitement of a child on Chanuka anticipating what fantastic surprises await her under the shiny paper and bright bow. That’s where the fire should be; not in the same tired old sins the Yetzer Hara recycles and repackages as new.
Torah is compared to fire because we need passion to pursue it (among other reasons discussed in Taanis) and if we treat it properly, we’ll be tempted and tantalized by the possibilities of how our minds can be opened today.
I guess that if we concentrate on the right things and finding them desirable, then people just might call us fat. You know, “Focused around Torah,” “Finally a Tzaddik,” and “Finding a Treasure” – in the gifts we receive every day, which never lose their appeal.
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