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Thought for the Day: Improving Quantity and Quality of Life in This World, Three Simple Practices

Chazal (Brachos 54b) tell us that by extending our time in prayer, at the table, and in the bathroom we will extend our days and years.  My first thought at seeing this list was a paraphrase of a favorite Sesame Street vignette, "All three of these things are not like the others, all three of them just don't belong."  Perhaps, though, we will see why they are like the others by the time I finish my TftD.

Rashi doesn't even bother to give an explanation for prayer, but he does give help us out with the table and bathroom.  By extending our meal, poor people are likely to come by and therefore we'll have an opportunity to give tzedaka.  (Hang on... you mean to say that I shouldn't be aggravated when that m'shulach knocks at my door davka at dinner time?  You mean to say, that he is coming to give me extended days and years?  Uh-oh....)  Not rushing in and out of the bathroom, taking care of your needs appropriately, Rashi says, is curative.  Apparently he takes רופא כל בשר ומפליא לעשות seriously.  Fine, fine, so Chazal are telling you to communicate your complaints to HaShem (the author of your troubles so you'll come to Him) -- that is, take care with בין אדם למקום; use your resources in helping others -- that is, בין אדם לחברו; and take care of your own physical needs -- that is, בין אדם לעצמו.

The בן יהוידע starts by addressing the apparent superfluous word "days" in "extends days and years".  He says that "extends years" means to increase the span of your life, while to "extend days" means to increase the quality of your life.  The בן יהוידע explains the choice of terms by noting someone who is free of worry can accomplish in one day what would otherwise take a week, while someone fulls of worries and distress can't accomplish in a whole day what should take less than an hour.

Given that, the בן יהוידע explains how extending your time in executing these three activities increase the quality of your life.  (As far as I can tell, both Rashi and the בן יהוידע feel that it is obvious why these activities extend your lifespan, it is the increase in quality of life that needs explanation.)

When trying to get resources to be successful in one's endeavors, a person naturally goes to whoever controls those resources.  A person with complete faith that HaShem is in charge will naturally spend his time on the important stuff -- t'filla.  He is not going to be wrapping up his t'fillin during the reader's repetition and barely a nod to the east as he rushes out to business.  In this case, it seems that extending one's t'fila is a sign that he has a high quality life because he is walking the talk.

Why distribute charity at the table instead of just writing checks?  The gemara (Ta'anis 23) relates that when Abba Chilkiya and his wife davened for rain, the clouds approached from here side.  When asked about that, Abba Chilkiya said that his wife distributes food to the poor, while he only gives them money.  They can consume the food right away, money is only potential food that needs more work.  Therefore, concluded Abba Chilkiya, מידה כנגד מידה/measure for measure, his wife's prayers are answered immediately.

Then there is the bathroom issue.  A person who is careful to completely clean himself out will feel more nourishment from his food and suffer no digestive problems; so, again, whatever time he spent eating accomplishes much more and with more enjoyment.

So you want a long life that is packed with accomplishments?  Take to your Creator/King/Father (t'fila), while enjoying yourself (at the table) share that enjoyment with other, and take out the trash.

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