The Taste of Onions
Many people claim that they have difficulty 'getting into' Torah and prayer. They're bored and uninspired. Why are some enamored with spirituality while others are others not?
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
You're too serious – I have to tell you a joke and make you smile.
A wonderful young man of 28 had not yet found his soul mate. He had one setback that made prospective brides reject him – he couldn't smell.
On the other end of town, there was a wonderful young woman of 26 who had not yet found her soul mate. She had one setback that made prospective grooms reject her – her breath constantly smelled of onions.
In town, there was a brilliant matchmaker who decided that the abovementioned young people were a perfect match. He introduced them and it was love at first sight. They were soon married.
A year after the wedding, the matchmaker attended a Bar Mitzva where he encountered the young man who couldn't smell. "How are you, my friend, and how's married life?"
"I owe you so much," the young man said to the matchmaker. "Life is a dream – my wife and I are madly in love with each other. There's just one problem..."
"What's that?" asked the matchmaker.
The young man answered, "Every time my wife opens her mouth, I cry!"
OK, now we can learn. I'll tell you another parable about onions.
In an Eastern European town of yesteryear, lived two cousins. One was extremely rich with a mansion on the hill and the other was very poor and lived in a dilapidated shack on the edge of town.
The poor cousin could barely afford the most minimal sustenance. More often than not, pangs of hunger would gnaw at his midsection. Yet, he refused to beg for financial help. He was especially ashamed to ask his cousin for help, even though the latter was in a position to do so. But, when he heard through the grapevine that his cousin would be marrying off a daughter in a few weeks, he rejoiced. "Surely my cousin will make a banquet fit for a king. There will be fish, meat, twenty types of bakery delights and no less than thirty types of wines and whiskeys. I'll eat and drink and fill up my reserves." The poor cousin started counting the days until the wedding.
There was only one problem.
A day passed, a week, two weeks – it was the week of the wedding and the rich cousin had not yet sent an invitation. The poor cousin was too proud to ask the rich cousin for a copper kopeck – he certainly wouldn't show up to the wedding feast uninvited.
For three days, the poor cousin didn't eat. He surmised that the wedding would compensate for a week of hunger and even satiate him for a week after. Yet, the day of the wedding arrived and there was still no invitation. He was starving – he had to eat something, lest he faint soon. He looked in his paltry pantry and there was nothing but a chunk of three-day-old black bread and a big onion. He washed his hands and made a hamotzi blessing on the bread. Starving, he devoured the barely edible hard-as-a-rock black bread, eating each slice with a thick chunk of the onion. Just as he was finishing his "meal", someone knocked on the front door.
"Your cousin apologizes profusely," said the carriage master. "He sent me to personally fetch you and bring you to the wedding."
The poor man quickly said his grace after meals, donned his shabby overcoat, and accompanied the wagon master.
Sure enough, the wedding banquet was fit for a king. A waiter in a tuxedo served the poor cousin the first course of rainbow trout in almandine sauce and poured him a glass of the finest Ukrainian vodka, Nemerovka. Something was wrong, though, and the poor guy enjoyed neither – both the fish and the vodka tasted like onions. "What, are they serving ruined food here?" he thought. "Maybe the chef and the barman are incompetent." He didn't say anything and waited for the main course. He was given a choice of rack-of-lamb or baby beef chateau Briand. He asked the waiter to give him both. Once more, both delicacies tasted like onions.
At this point, he called his rich cousin over to his table. "Cousin, thank you for having me at your celebration, but I think something is terribly askew with the food and drink – everything tastes like onions!"
The clever rich cousin understood right away what was going on: "No, dear cousin, it's not my food and drink – it's your palate. You must have eaten a lot of onions today. That's why you can't taste my food!"
Compared to the delicacies of spirituality – every word of Torah and every word of prayer – material pleasures and preoccupations are onions. But, when a person is preoccupied with material concerns, he or she can't taste the delight of Torah and prayer. Why, everything tastes like onions. So, if we aren't inspired by our prayers and Torah learning, it's probably because there's too much odor of onions on our souls.
May Hashem help us taste the delight of His delicacies. Life doesn't have to be black bread and onions.
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.