Another’s Gashmiyus is my Ruchnius
יענעמס גשמיות איז בא מיר רוחניות.
Another’s physical needs/wants are for me, spiritual.
I first heard this sentiment from R’ Shaul Margoliszt”l, the Chassidishe rav of the shul of my childhood, The Lubavitcher Rebbezt”l describes it as an old Chassidic saying (Igros vol. 13, 27 Iyyar 5716). I think the earliest source is Rav Yisrael Salanter, as quoted in the list of epigrams of Rav Yirael’s in R’ Dov Katz’s Tenu’as haMussar vol. 1. Similarly, this quote from the same chapter:
A pious Jew is not one who worries about his fellow man’s soul and his own stomach; a pious Jew worries about his own soul and his fellow man’s stomach.
It’s a pretty notion as it stands. I used to be one of those people who would answer someone’s “Have an easy fast!” with “Have a meaningful one!” But my attraction to this greeting waned (when not dealing with my children, whose spiritual development is my business) when I realized it was distracting from what to me should be the more fundamental calling — their physical discomfort of fasting.
When the Brisker Rav taught this idea, a student challenged him with some middos that seem the antithesis of Jewish worship.
Apiqursus (heresy). How can it be used positively? As we’ve been saying — for me and mine, I can have bitachon (trust [in the A-lmighty]) that everything that happens is as it should be. On another’s account, one needs to be an “apiqoreis” and not rely on Hashem’s help.
Krumkeit (warped reasoning). The person who thinks farkumkt has the ability to fulfill “dan likaf zekhus”, judging others favorably, no matter how open-and-shut the story seems to the rest of us. Somehow, we only employ it for self-justification, and hold others to a higher standard.
The notion that his stomach is a fundamental priority for me ties in to this kind of “apiqursus“.
Someone emailed me the following story, from an article by R’ Yakov Horowitz for Mishpachah Magazine (© 2008):
Rabbi Moshe Weinbergershlit”a, the dynamic Rav of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York, tells a remarkable story that he personally heard from Rabbi Binyamin Liftonz”l, who served as a rebbi in the Yeshiva of Central Queens for decades.
When Reb Binyomin was in his late teens, his parents decided to send him to the famed Yeshiva in Grodno, headed by the legendary gaon, HaRav Shimon Shkopzt”l. As it was common practice for all applicants to recite a ‘shtikel Torah’ to Reb Shimon upon arrival, Binyomin’s parents hired a rebbi to properly prepare their son for his farher.
Binyomin endured many days of grueling travel to get to the Yeshiva. When he finally arrived late one evening, exhausted and famished, he was startled to be greeted by Reb Shimon. Binyomin introduced himself and said that he was prepared to recite his ‘shtikel Torah’ to the Rosh Yeshiva. Reb Shimon informed Binyomin that before he recited his Torah portion, he would like to ask Binyomin two questions.
Binyomin froze in fear, as he had only prepared himself to recite a portion of gemara, not to be subjected to a full-blown ‘farher! His fear dissipated when Rav Shkop asked him, “When was your last hot meal?” and “When was the last time that you slept in a bed?”
When Binyomin informed the Rosh Yeshiva that he had not properly eaten or slept since he began travelling, Reb Shimon took him home, personally cooked supper for him, and attended to his needs, until he was sleeping comfortably in Reb Shimon’s house.
Reb Binyomin told Rabbi Weinberger that he had forgotten a great deal of the Torah that he learned in Reb Shimon’s shiurim, but he never forgot the two questions that the Rosh Yeshiva asked him that night. He also told Rav Weinberger that throughout the terrible war years, it was the warm memory of Reb Shimon’s devotion to his needs that sustained his faith in Hashem and his will to remain alive.
When I read this story it made me feel truly privileged to have experienced what it means to be part of this tradition. For two years I sat in the shi’ur of Rav Dovid Lifshitzzt”l, the Suvalker Rav, a student of Rav Shimon’s. And Rav Dovid’s notion of a test was similar to his rebbe’s.
YU required written finals. I think Rav Dovid once told me that he wouldn’t have given them otherwise. In any case, the morning of the final, rebbe would ask us two questions that echo Rav Shimon’s “fahrher“:
First, he would want to know who had eight hours of sleep the previous night.
Second, he would ask who had breakfast that morning.
Rav Dovid’s primary concern was for the welfare of his talmidim who were often overextended during final week. How can he worry about how we would test when he wasn’t yet sure we were fully equipped to succeed at our learning?
Those who didn’t get a full night’s sleep were sent back to bed. Those who skipped breakfast were given $5 and sent to the cafeteria. (At least, those who addmitted to it. Few people would raise their hands the second time around, and I know for sure at least some of us were just avoiding taking rebbe‘s money…)
To Rav Shimon and Rav Dovid, a talmid‘s gashmius was truly their ruchnius.
But I realized this morning there is another layer to this concept.
Why is there a gashmius to begin with?
Because the Creator wanted to provide us with a venue where we can interact with other people. Where things aren’t perfect, and we must step in and take partnership with Him in completing their creation. A place where we can be givers, not just recipients.
In other words, the sole reason for this world is so that my ruach, my soul-as-will (ruach also means wind — the unseen power that moves the seen) can step in and provide for others their physical needs. This is why we were created such that sexual intimacy is of the greatest bonding forces. A the Torah says “Therefore man will leave his father and mother and bond with his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Bereishis 2:24) This is why we associate sharing a celebration with sharing a meal (such as the qorban Todah, for giving thanks, which was of a size too large for any one person to eat).
Another’s gashmius is thus the reason for my soul being extended into this world. Beyond simply calling it a religious duty, it truly is my ruchnius.