The Mitzvah of Brushing Your Teeth


Having children is considered a mitzvah, but until I was a parent, I didn’t fully appreciate what this meant.  Sure, I could comprehend that if Jews have kids, then the Jewish people will continue to exist and grow.  To me, that always seemed far too obvious an answer.  Obviously, as Jews, we want more Jews to be around to carry on the tradition after we have departed from this world, but, like all mitzvahs, there has to be more to it than just that.  Having children to carry on your traditions is something that every culture would strive for.  That’s just a survival instinct, and the Rabbis teach that Hashem didn’t tell us anything in the Torah that was already obvious.  Hashem isn’t one to waste words on telling people what they already know.  To illustrate this point, a Rabbi once posed this scenario to me:

You’re stranded on a desert island with a horse and a person who has just died.  There is absolutely nothing to eat, and you’re not going to be rescued for a very long time.  The only things you could possibly consume would be either the horse or the person.  Keeping in mind that the Torah forbids eating horse, but says nothing about cannibalism, do you eat the horse or the person?

I sat there trying to weigh the pros and cons of each choice and while I couldn’t bear the thought of eating something that wasn’t kosher, the thought of eating a person was just too repulsive for me to get my head around.  But if I’m trying to do everything correctly by the Torah, then perhaps I should choose the person.  After much consideration I decided that there was absolutely no way I could eat another human being, and I would opt for the horse.  I was happy to find out that I had picked the right answer.  The reasoning is that it’s not in human nature to eat another person, and therefore Hashem didn’t feel the need to include a prohibition on cannibalism.

When Tevye was about six months old I was giving him a bath in the evening before bed.  He had some teeth in his mouth at this time, so we had recently started brushing his teeth before bed.  We usually did this while he was having a bath as it was a rather trying experience each day.  While Tevye loved having his daily bath, he absolutely hated having his teeth brushed.  I really didn’t understand why he hated it so much.  He had a nice toothbrush, and his toothpaste was Strawberry Banana flavoured(I spent quite some time looking for strawberry banana flavoured toothpaste for adults, though sadly, I never found any).  Each night he would put up as much of a fuss as he possibly could.

I would try and rationalize with him, but believe me, it’s rather difficult to rationalize with a six month old boy.  My only argument in favour of him brushing his teeth was that he wouldn’t want them to fall out.  If he could’ve understood me, he probably would’ve come back with “You know what Tatte?  I do want them to fall out.  Do you have any idea how painful new teeth coming through my gums is?  These stupid things have caused nothing but trouble since they showed up.  And what’s more, they’re only going to fall out on their on accord in a few years anyways.  What’s the point?”  All of which are valid points I suppose.  Man, that Tevye is one smart cookie.

I suddenly had, what I would later describe as, a moment of genius.  I handed him the toothbrush.  He was a little surprised that I was just handing it over like that.  He sat there quietly, examining his new found toy with all the wonder of Neil Armstrong first stepping on the moon.  After a moment, he stuck the business-end in his mouth and tried to brush his teeth.  Then we co operated on the teeth brushing exercise, and lo and behold, he sat there nicely while I got the job done.  How do you like that?  All he wanted was to feel like he was the one making the decissions.

I realized then, that this is what we’re all like, but on a larger scale(I can’t fit on those baby scales they use in doctors’ offices.  I tried, but then I get in trouble).  G-d tells us He wants us to do certain things at certain times, and sometimes it just plain doesn’t feel very convenient or worth it.  Hashem is sitting up there, watching all of his children, trying his darndest to get us to “brush our teeth before bed”.  Sometimes I really think it would be much more convenient to brush my teeth earlier in the day, or perhaps I just wont brush my teeth at all today.  We can argue all we want, and ultimately it’s up to us as adults to decide whether we’re going to take the advice and have good oral heath, or let our teeth rot and fall out.

While I don’t claim to have done more than scratched the surface of the reasoning of the mitzvah of having children(or any other mitzvah, for that matter), I do have a much better understanding than I did before actually having children.

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