Shabbat 82 – Successful Bodily Functions
Rabbi Huna’s response is very telling – “he speaks of the life of God’s creations, and you think he’s teaching milay d’alma. All the more reason to learn from him!” In other words, even the most mundane, secular or even profane matter that has to do with God’s creation is fodder for religious exploration. Today we understand the world divided into “religious” matters and “secular” matters – working at our job, fixing our roof, going to the bathroom all in the latter category. While rabbinic Judaism did have words for “holy” [kodesh] and “secular” [khol], they didn’t really have the same sense, since even the “secular” was suffused with a sense of omnipresent and omnipotent divinity. It is only when our concept of God shrinks to accommodate to real-world experience that space for the “secular” is created.
Thus advice for the person who needs to “evacuate” but cannot (i.e. constipation) is not just advice, but part of the tradition of living a healthy life. One Rabbi suggests standing up and sitting down; another suggests moving side to side; and there is a dispute over whether concentrating on it or not thinking about it at all will be more helpful. There is even a traditional blessing for successfully leaving a bathroom with every tube and orifice in working order! And even the most secular of us may let out some religious vocabulary (from other religions too!) when we’ve had to go and finally have success.
Rabbi Adam Chalom
For more on this topic, see my entry for Berakhot 60, which is also where the “bathroom blessing” is found. A traditional (and straight-faced) exploration of the “bathroom blessing” that contains its full text can be read at: http://torah.org/features/firstperson/everythingablessing.html.