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Rabbinic Reflections - Parshat Ekev                                        August 24, 2019 - 23 Av 5779 

08/22/2019 02:42:18 PM


When I was planning my trip to see my kids in the US this past week, I looked for hotel with exercise facilities.  I called several hotels, with no luck.  Finally, I thought I had found one. I asked the receptionist if the hotel had a weight room.  "No," she replied, "but we have a lobby and you can wait there.”

Fitness is an important part of life.  The Talmud teaches that we have a responsibility to teach our children Torah, a profession and how to swim (Kiddushin 29a).  Swimming is an excellent fitness exercise.  Indeed, one of the most often quoted verses in the Torah appears in this week's portion when Moses recounts the early history of the Israelites desert journey by saying (Deuteronomy 8:3): "God subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that MAN DOES NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees."  Rabbi Chaim Potok, in his commentary of the Eitz Hayim Humash notes, "This familiar verse is usually taken to mean that people need "more than bread"-including culture, art, and food for the spirit."

Rabbi Howard Siegel takes this commentary one step further and suggests that a lot of people would also benefit greatly by more exercise and better nutrition! Rabbi Siegel points out that The New York Times reported in an article that 24.5 percent of American adults are not just slightly overweight, but categorized as "obese."  Twelve states report more than a quarter of their adult population is obese.  In 1985, not a single state had more than 20% obesity.  Today more than 40 states do.

What does this have to do with Torah?  Everything!  In a later portion of the Book of Deuteronomy we will read another oft-quoted verse (30:19): " I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose Life!"  Overweight people are at a significantly greater risk of sudden death by heart attack, diabetes, or a plethora of other ailments.  As a human being, our task is to provide a quality of life to all inhabitants of this earth.  But what is the practical worth of this effort if one is unable to enjoy the fruits of this world because of health issues that could have been prevented by understanding that life has to be nurtured both spiritually and physically.

Health expert tell us that the three most important things we can do are eat right, exercise regularly and get a good night’s sleep.

So, my prescription for a better life:
          1) a regular program of exercise,
          2) eating a more nutritional diet, and
          3) bringing more Shabbat into our lives.  

Judaism knew, eons ahead of our time, what provides us with good health!

Thus, there are certain times in my day that are sacrosanct (holy, and not to be tampered with):  My daily prayer moments and exercise time.  Monday-Friday mornings, before morning minyan, I can be found either lifting weights or cycling.  This time is inviolable.  My day is not complete without it.

Kashrut, the dietary laws, has taught me nutrition.  The ideal of Kashrut is a vegetarian life style.  Not everyone achieves this ideal.  I am careful about the amount of red meat I eat and eat fish as a protein alternative.  Kashrut has also taught me to curb my cravings.  I limit my intake of sugar, salt, and fats. Keeping Kosher informs my choice of restaurants. Specifically, it keeps me away from Fast Food joints (don't be fooled by the new, improved looks of McDonald's, Wendy’s, etc).  Fast food restaurants are the No. 1 reason for the increase in obesity and are simply bad for our health.  Stay away!

And then there is the day of rest-Shabbat:  The feast for the spirit!  One day a week I rest my mind, body, and soul.  I spend time appreciating the works of my hands and the beauty of God's world, and then I am ready for another week: inspired, in shape, and healthy.

If your health is being compromised by your weight, don't put off change any longer.  We are approaching the eve of another year; another opportunity to start again.  Do it!  And remember the words of Deuteronomy: “Man does not live on bread, alone!”

Shabbat Shalom!
                           Rabbi Geoff

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780