By Yochanan Gordon
The Divrei Chaim of Sanz had a son who later became known as the Gollitzer Maggid. One Shabbos, a Jew entered his beis midrash and asked if he could daven at the amud, since he had yahrzeit that Shabbos. As it turns out, this man could not sing or stick to the accepted nusach to save his life, making it not the most pleasurable davening to be held in the town of Gollitz. Following davening, during the tisch, the Rebbe turned to this Jew and asked him if he would like to share a few words of Torah in the merit of the departed soul. The man thanked the Rebbe but declined, saying, “I don’t know how to give derashos.” With classic Sanzer wit, the Rebbe replied, “You don’t know how to give a derashah but you’re okay with davening for the tzibbur?”
There are certain accepted traditions when someone is observing a yahrzeit, one of which is known as tikkun. At its origin, the purpose for tikkun on a yahrzeit is to elevate the soul of the departed to higher heavenly heights by way of the blessings that the congregants make on the food, dedicated in honor of the departed. So in many congregations the custom is that the yahrzeit observers bring some cake, herring, and whiskey in order that the congregation partake in this food in the merit of the departed.
It’s ironic, however, that the word tikkun is translated as “rectify” or “repair.” At the same time, the food generally offered (cake, etc.) is not the most slenderizing, if you know what I mean. So, on the one hand, the purpose of this practice is to rectify the soul of the departed through the berachos that we make. On the other hand, by doing so, we are inevitably adding to our girth through all these starchy and caloric foods. For the weight-conscious, in Torah terms, I’d say it is similar to one who is immersing in a mikveh while holding onto a sheretz.
So it could be said that partaking in the rite of tikkun is possibly the greatest act of self-sacrifice. We are consuming some of the most unhealthy foods and beverages solely so that someone’s parent or grandparent or relative should be elevated to greater heavenly heights as a result of the berachah being recited—at great personal impact.
You would think that throughout the years someone would have developed a healthy tikkun. But I believe that the irony of the traditional tikkun menu is a large part of the impact that the entire rite has on the soul of the departed. Besides, I wouldn’t want to be the guinea pig soul with which to test whether shehakol by itself serves as a valid berachah to effect the soul’s elevation. I think the common understanding is that nothing less than a mezonos will activate the soul ascension. Furthermore, you can’t just eat one rugela or piece of mandelbread, because what do you do about making a berachah acharonah? You have to be sure that you have consumed an olive-bulk or, according to some, an egg-bulk before you could even think about walking away. In any event, it would be quite mortifying to mount a fruit-and-vegetable platter on the back table of the shul, especially a chassidish shul, and invite the olam to partake in the healthy repast in memory of the departed loved one.
I wouldn’t be writing about this if I weren’t so weight-conscious of late. Anyone who knows me is aware that I never had even the faintest thought or concern about having to lose weight. For the longest time, I could recall my doctor telling me to drink as many chocolate milkshakes (I’d say malteds, but then I’d be dating myself) I could get my hands on. So for years, my diet included obsessive amounts of Entenmann’s doughnuts, Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, soda, chocolate milk, and sugary juices. However, despite always being told by my siblings that it would one day catch up with me and never really believing it, I’m starting to see that their words are coming to fruition.
There are surely a couple of people reading this who will not be able to hold back from smiling or even uncontrollable laughter. But as hard as it is to withdraw from certain foods that have been a part of my regular diet for over 30 years, I have become much more weight-conscious than before, and it is even reflected in the foods that I eat on a regular basis—my occasional slipups notwithstanding.
Believe me, if I weren’t watching my weight, I wouldn’t order a plain egg-white omelet, especially without a bagel. And I’m not that desperate for attention to pain myself solely so that people should think that I am watching my weight. As good as Toddy’s tuna mish is, even with low-fat tuna, it would never occur to me to order that if I weren’t looking to get off of carbs, at least during the weekdays. Before this era of weight-consciousness, I don’t think I ever paid too much attention to the menu, as my attention was fixed on the pastry counter to my left, which was the easiest choice—never mind the thousand calories, because who is counting anyway?
Let’s face it: I made a pretty ill-informed decision to begin dieting during the summer. I must not have been thinking too clearly, as I completely lost sight of our family Fourth of July barbecue, hosted annually by my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Binyomin for the past 22 years. Following the barbecue, a friend of mine, aware of my newfound weight-consciousness, asked me what I ate at the barbecue, but immediately retracted his question, aware of the need for a dispensation from time to time, especially given the fact that it is summer. I mean, you have to admit, there is something existentially awkward about eating a hot dog without a bun.
So, as I was constructing the ideas of this article in my head, I began to ask myself where this was all heading. And I just figured it out. With this article printed on paper and posted for posterity on the Internet, I must be committed to adjusting my calorie intake and perhaps become a little more active, because now I know if I lose sight of my goal for a moment and order a bagel for lunch, the guy behind me will probably look at me funny, knowing about my weight-loss resolution. And just as the Gemara says that, by their examples, Hillel obligates the poor and Rav Eliezer obligates the wealthy, etc., when it comes to weight loss, I obligate the junkies. ϖ
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