I’ve lost track of how many days it’s been since I really had an appetite. I don’t plan to gross you out with details of my bout with the flu, but as I always say that everything we experience is for a reason and we should learn from whatever we encounter, I figured I could share some of what I learned so you don’t need to go through it. As the saying goes, “A fool learns from his mistakes; a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
So, it happened. While everyone was going about their daily lives and the flu made its reappearance after an almost flu-less 2020-2021, it found its way to my door. Baruch Hashem, it’s given me food for thought, even as my Shabbos meals consisted of a piece of challa or matza and not much else.
It’s actually been rather surreal to be seeing food that looks delicious, but not to be wanting to eat it. Normally, the desire to enjoy delicacies outweighs our ability to do so, so this was a change. It was almost like an out-of-body experience and made me realize that there is such a difference between our bodies and our souls. I wasn’t even thirsty, but I knew I needed to hydrate so I made myself drink. That was a conscious decision I had to make to take care of myself and it’s an eye-opener.
The Borei Olam set up the world so that we naturally feel hunger, in order for us to feed our bodies. Otherwise, we’d never bother to eat. That’s why He created a desire for yummy foods, too. He created a desire for people to have children so we’d marry and fill the world with people. Obviously, no one in their right mind would otherwise willingly choose countless nights of waking up every two hours to feed a screaming baby or trying to board a plane with three toddlers and a newborn. But because it’s good for the world, Hashem created a desire for it so it would happen.
I’ve shared with you before the story of the fellow who asked R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky, “What should I do? I don’t have a chaishek (desire) to learn.” R’ Yaakov answered, “Learn without a chaishek.” Life isn’t about doing what we want, but doing what we should. The trick is to find the desire for it.
In the Midbar, the Eruv Rav “desired a desire” and led the Jews to complain. They really had no need for meat or fish as the Mon tasted like the best foods of all. What they wanted was to “want.” They missed the appetite and craving for different foods. They missed being on a more physical plane and really connecting with their food. And that was bad. But desire? That’s not a bad thing at all.
We say three times a day, “Poseach es yadecha u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon – You open your hand and satisfy every creature with desire.” Perhaps we can understand that Hashem gives us the desires for things that are necessary and important for our wellbeing. Indeed, He does, and that’s why not only do we get hungry, but we get enjoyment from the food. He gives us desires so we might do what we ought to.
Then there are times when we don’t have the desires but we know what’s good for us. Then we need to do the right thing until we start to desire it. Someone who starts drinking more water will find themselves thirstier. Someone who does nice things for others will desire to do more things, and one who learns Torah, without a desire, will eventually find the desire to learn more, and more deeply.
I guess this experience has taught me that we shouldn’t just “listen to our bodies,” to see what we need. Instead, we need to balance that with what we know from our intellect and our neshamos and our mesorah are crucial for our survival. Then, we should use the gift of desires to find ways to get ourselves to do what’s really best for us.
By fostering desires for the right things and learning to crave Torah, mitzvos, kindness, and giving, we can use the power of “wants” to help us fulfill all our needs.
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