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Thought for the Day: Torah and Food/Food and Torah

Here is a ridiculus קל וחומר (a fortiori) argument:  I see a dentist twice a year, and he only cares for one part of my body; certainly I should see a personal at least twice a year because he cares for many parts of my body.  The קל וחומר is ridiculous because the sort of care I get from a dentist is completely different than the sort of care I get from a personal trainer.  In fact, the only connection between their concerns -- teeth and gums vs muscles and joints -- is that they both happen to be in my body, but they couldn't have less to do with each other.

Yet that seems to be the sort of קל וחומר that R' Yochanan is proposing: Food does not require a bracha before, but does require a bracha afterwards.  Therefore learning Torah, which does require a bracha before, all the more so must require a bracha afterwards!  What in the world does learning have to do with eating?  In fact, that is precisely how the gemara (TB Brachos 21a) refutes R' Yochanan's proof:  How can you compare the brachos on food and Torah?  The bracha on food is for the pleasure we experience.  The bracha on Torah is for the eternal life it gives us!  That seems so obvious that one might question what R' Yochanan was thinking in the first place.  Here's a rule: if you, a non expert in the field, see that something obvious is it being overlooked by an expert in the field who is quoted in a peer reviewed document, you are wrong.

In fact, the gemara itself when refuting R' Yochanan hedges: moreover, we have a mishna that says that bracha before food is only d'rabanan.  Here's another rule: when the gemara says "moreover", it means that something was lacking in the preceding.  Why the hedge?  Because, as you probably already know, we have the famous mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:21): If there is no food, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no food.  Here we are back at square one; this time a statement on which no one argues that links Torah and food.

While it it true that Torah is the source of eternal life, one cannot learn Torah nor perform mitzvos (which is essentially the most intensive learning possible) unless he is alive.  Food, therefore, is an absolutely necessary precondition to learning Torah.  Also, many, many mitzvos revolve around food.  Food, therefore, also give eternal life.  On the other hand, there is no reason for life unless it is utilized in the performance of Torah and mitzvos.  Without Torah and mitzvos, there would be no reason for life itself, certainly not food.

The point of disagreement, therefore is really: What is the intent of the bracha on food?  Is it for the enjoyment or for the health and life that it provides?  What is the intent of the bracha on Torah?  Is it for the eternal life it provides, or is it for the fact that a life of Torah and mitzvos enables one to have enjoyment in this world?  Not to say what is more important, just a technicality in hte construction of brachos.  On that, the gemara believes that the original intent for brachos on food is for the pleasure, while the bracha on Torah is for eternal life.  However, it has no real proof -- in fact, it "hears" R' Yochanan's opinion very well; the final decider, therefore, is the p'sak of the mishna.

Even better... this gemara introduced us to the fact that we need to be thankful for both.


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