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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

How to Prepare Potentially Damaging Foods and Ideas

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Gemara:
Woe unto the house that turnips pass through it. Is that so? Didn’t Rava say to his assistant: "If you see turnips in the market, do not ask what we will eat together with bread" [in other words, "Certainly buy the turnips"]? Abayei said: [the problem is] without meat. Rava said: [the problem is] without wine... Shmuel said: [the problem is] without wood.


Ein Ayah: The gemara speaks in terms of the turnip passing through the house because it is not digested and does not give strength to the body, and, therefore, it is damaging when it passes through. On a parallel level, we would say that things that have negative impacts are more easily absorbed, as there is damage even without digestion, whereas positive impacts occur only after there is digestion. The Rabbis taught us that benefit can be extracted from these things when the body is prepared to receive the benefit through meat, wine, or wood.
A parallel concept exists regarding spiritual matters, where the nourishment in question is not of food but of ideas. There are certain ideas that will not lead a person on a good path unless they are made "digestible" in a proper way. This is done when one makes them able to be understood deeply by attaching them to deep ethical ideas that can give the person the insight to use them for his spiritual benefit. However, if they will just "pass through" his intellect and he will not "digest them" in the proper manner, then the ideas will just cause him pain and damage in the realm of proper behavior.
Therefore, a person should realize, when filling himself or others with potentially dangerous ideas, that if they are not prepared in a manner that they can be digested, they will not produce results of life and goodness for the soul. The three preparations that the gemara mentions are beef, wine, and wood. The beef stands for the main body of Torah; the wine represents the additional supplementary knowledge that can be added onto it; the wood represents the handles with which people grasp the laws of Hashem and the "teachings of fire" (based on Devarim 33:2). If one does things properly it will be possible to extract the pleasant fruit and the power to nourish that is found in every element of wisdom, even those that are very far from Him. This is because, "His Kingdom rules over everything" (Tehillim 103:19). We have other statements that illustrate Hashem’s pervasiveness throughout the world: "If I will go up to the heavens, You are there. If I will go down to the depths of the world, behold it is You. I will place upon me wings and will dwell at the end of the seas; there too Your hand will guide me, and Your right hand will grasp me" (Tehillim 139:8-10).
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