Nobody Here But Us Chickens

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Hen on the farm, a portrait
28 Sep 2017

I ran into a strange Halachic debate with my students in class this week. The question under discussion was this. Let’s say someone ate and then used the facilities and they now need to say both “Asher Yatzar” and “Bracha Achrona”.  Which comes first?

So the Maharshal says that Asher Yatzar is first priority because we apply the standard rule of Tadir VeEino Tadir- Tadir Kodem. Meaning that if one is more frequent and the other is less frequent we first do what is more frequent.  When I asked my students which Bracha, according to this formula, should come first, the astonishing answer was Bracha Achrona, of course!

I see two ways to understand this “Machlokes” between the great Rav Shlomo Luria and 18 year old seminary girls.

One possibility is that 400 years ago visits to the outhouse were more frequent than they are today when we have flushing toilets, padded seats and air-freshener, but I somehow doubt it.

It has to do with us chickens. “In the beginning Yisrael were like chickens pecking in the dirt, until Moshe came along and set them meal times” (Yoma75b). The Egyptian way, says the Seforno, was to eat whenever they felt like it. Take a look at cows grazing in the field or for that matter, chickens pecking in the dirt.  As Hashem prepares to feed Bnei Yisrael Man and Slav Moshe prays that they will get dinner food, Slav, at dinner time and breakfast Man, in the morning.  When Bnei Yisrael get on to a normal eating schedule then they will realize that they have made a total exit from Mitzrayim, not just relocation.   Hashem had taken the Jews out of Mitzrayim but now He was going to to take Mitzrayim out of the Jews.

Maharshal related to a reality where people ate two meals a day, or maybe three. That was it.  There were set meal times when people ate. They probably also ate together as a family.  They also probably said Birkat haMazon at the end of their meals. Clearly, visits to the room without a Mezuza were more common than eating muffins during the course of a normal day. If so there is no question that Asher Yatzar is the winner in the popularity contest.

It seems that we have, somewhere, slid back into Mitzrayim, or Mitzrayim has seeped back into us.  We eat at all times and all the time. “No question” say the students, “visits to the fridge outnumber visits to the facilities.”

The Mitzri eating style reflected their existence as physical people, devoid of any spiritual dimension. Not much difference between them and the cows and chickens.  Mitzri eating allows food to control a person, summoning him to eat whenever the urge strikes.  I eat because it’s there, because it looks yummy, because I got the munchies, because it makes me feel good, or for no reason at all. There is something undignified in eating like a chicken. There is an aspect of enslavement to the physical- being slaves in Egypt again.

Here we are in the Golus of Edom, named for Esav who yelled to his brother “FEED ME NOW the red stuff!”  In the pit of exile, in the pits of our stomachs, us chickens are waiting.  With apologies to Mordechai Ben David we ask: “When will come the Eagle and set the little chickens free?”

But if we are eating anyway and saying Bracha Achrona that many times a day, let’s use it to our advantage.  As we say the words Rachem Al Yisrael Amecha- let’s aspire to the dignity and majesty of Yisrael in all we do. And lets cry out from the depths Veha’aleinu– raise us up to the highest heights. Enough scrabbling in the dirt!

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.