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Thought for the Day: D'oraisa, D'Rabanan, Minhag

I was working with my 3.5 year old granddaughter to not stuff so much food into her mouth at one time.  She is very strong willed (Heaven knows where she gets that from...), and it was important to me because there is a real choking danger.  Hence, I decided to reason with her.  I am fairly strong willed also, as it turns out.  (My poor mother, may she rest in peace, really never did figure out where I got that from...)

So we worked out that both air and food travels through her mouth; food goes to her tummy and air goes to her chest. (I was going to go for "stomach" and "lungs", but my daughter's eyes were already in danger of rolling clean out her head.)  We established that food in the chest (lungs... I just couldn't control myself) would be bad thing.  So then I told her that there is a little door in her neck at the back of her throat to block food from going into her chest and that door can't close if there is too much food in her mouth.

Her eyes brightened up and she got this look of wonder on her face as she started feeling for the door.  "No, no, honey, the door is on the inside; you can't feel it.", said my daughter shooting me a look of "are you kidding?"  For the rest of the visit she kept feeling for that door, though.  On the positive side, she and I spent a lot of time looking at anatomy picture books and locating where each bone was situated in her body.  Good times.

I always cringe when I hear someone say, "Oh, that's only d'rabanan."  Or, "So d'oraisa I'm ok, right?"  The answer to both may be affirmative, but unless one understands the situation, that is a very dangerous answer.  And issur d'oraisa is equivalent to noting that you shouldn't put food in your lungs. A g'zeira d'rabanan is equivalent to that little door (it's called the epiglottis, of course), and a good minhag is equivalent to not over stuffing food into your mouth.

It is certainly true that you could live without an epiglottis.  It wouldn't be real fun, though; every attempt to eat would be a nerve wracking experience fraught with danger.  Similarly, living without g'zeiros d'rabanan (besides the issue of being over the d'oraisa to listen to the sages) would unimaginably difficult; one might constantly be asking if it was really worth it.  You can certainly live without minhagim, but just as when you stuff food into your mouth, you'd miss a lot of the taste and pleasure of life.

Now that's something to chew over.

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