By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
Food, as a source of enjoyment, was utterly unimportant to Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik, the legendary Shadar and first Chabad Shliach to the West Coast. He often ate breakfast in the early afternoon, after he finished davening. For years he traveled from city to city by train without a place to eat, and lived on a meager diet of matzah and sardines.
“Some of us live to eat, and some eat to live,” said Dr. Alan Dauer, Rabbi Raichik’s longtime physician. “Rabbi Raichik ate to live. Food was something he just put into his fuel tank to keep him going. You could place the food in front of him, and it would sit there for a long time. He was not into eating; he was into talking, relating to people, and giving advice.”
The scant attention Rabbi Raichik paid to his health was of great concern to both the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe. In one of the last private audiences he had with the Rebbe Rayatz, the Rebbe stressed the importance of a healthy Jewish body. He gave the example of a bris, a critical covenant and a fundamental aspect of Judaism, which is nevertheless postponed if the baby is not completely healthy.
The Rebbe Rayatz reiterated his concerns in his last letter to Rabbi Raichik: “Surely you remember the warning I gave you about maintaining and improving your health.”
A few years later, after the Rebbe Rayatz’s passing, Rabbi Raichik and his family were in New York. Once, he returned from 770 and told his wife that when he entered 770 the Rebbe uncharacteristically called out to him in front of everyone, “Why aren’t you eating? Why don’t you care about yourself?” The Rebbe told him that he wished to speak to his wife about it.
His wife Mrs. Lea Raichik called the Rebbe’s secratary Rabbi Mordechai Hodakov to ask if the Rebbe wanted to see her. He responded in the affirmative, and shortly thereafter the Rebbe devoted an entire audience to telling her how she should convince her husband to eat. The Rebbe wanted him to at least eat something in the morning before he went to daven for many hours.
She relayed this all to her husband, and from that time onward, even if he spent a very long time saying Birchos Hashachar and was in a rush, he wouldn’t leave the house without having a piece of cake.
The issue came up again in a 1952 letter: “According to what we discussed when you were here, surely you are maintaining your health appropriately,” the Rebbe wrote. “Please let me know about this, without concealing any of the details.”
In 1964 Rabbi Raichik flew with Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky to Israel for the dedication of a building in Kfar Chabad by the Lazaroff family, who resided in Los Angeles. The Rebbe instructed Rabbi Kazarnovsky before they left to make sure that during the trip Rabbi Raichik ate, “not according to Rabbi Raichik’s standards, but according to your understanding.”