What do You Bring to the Tabernacle?

Image result for tabernacle wilderness

Parashat Terumah contains the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness–the structure that would serve as a place of worship for the Israelites in their wanderings.

Rather than narrative–which is what we are used to up to this point–the Torah portion reads like an IKEA instruction manual.  It is quite specific and we don’t really know if there is any spiritual significance behind the various specifications.

What is apparent is that the work needed in order to complete the Tabernacle and its furnishings required a fair amount of expertise in various fields:  construction, woodworking, creating fabrics, treating leather, etc.  Midrashim have pointed out that the many tasks needed to bring the Tabernacle into existence meant that there was something for everyone to do, and that each individual could contribute in an area where they had competence.

This is a prime example of teamwork.  Not everyone can be a quarterback or a pitcher, but everyone working together can reach the goal.  This is no less true today in our Jewish community and in society.  Each of us brings our own special interests, skills and experiences.  None of us is a Jack-of-all-trades.  Together, however, we can build something beautiful in which not only will we feel pride and comfort, but where God will feel welcome as well.  

To Shovel or Not to Shovel…

Shoveling over my head

Here in Cleveland we just got another blast of winter cold and snow. Invariably the conversation turns to which suburbs do the best job of clearing the roads, as well as the usual observations about whether the person hired to clear the driveway and sidewalk had done their job satisfactorily.

For many years while I lived in Columbus, I used to shovel my driveway. Later on, when I had more responsibilities at work–and when it always seemed to snow on Shabbat when I couldn’t shovel–I paid someone in the neighborhood to take care of it.

A topic that comes up every now and again is how dangerous it might be to shovel snow from a health standpoint. We hear stories about people having heart attacks while shoveling, but what is the real story?

According to MetroHealth’s website here in Cleveland: “Shoveling, even pushing a heavy snow blower, can cause sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of the blood vessel and decrease oxygen to the heart. All these work in concert to increase the work of the heart and trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.” What we have here is a kind of double-whammy. On the one hand, the physical exertion leads to elevated and respiratory rates, while on the other hand, the cold air may prevent the additional oxygen from reaching the heart where it is needed most.

For most folks in decent health, the risk still remains relatively low. In fact, according to an article from Harvard Medical School, only about 100 people die each year from shoveling snow. Here is the link: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-shoveling-snow-put-your-heart-at-risk-2017120612887. If, however, a person already has compromised heart or lung function or is elderly, there is definitely a risk factor here.

Each person knows their own body best. While there may be a low risk of a cardiac event, others may develop issues with soreness of muscles as a result of shoveling. There is also the danger of slipping on the ice if such conditions exist with an increased risk of fractures among many older adults.

Weigh the pros and cons…and consider that paying a neighbor’s son or daughter to shovel may not only help preserve your health (definitely a Jewish value) but also help a young entrepreneur on their way to self-sufficiency!

C'mon, Get Happy!

Pharrell Williams #1

This Shabbat we will announce the new month of Adar.  As the expression goes:  “when Adar begins, our joy increases.”  This month contains the holiday of Purim, arguably the most fun (and frivolous) holiday on the Jewish calendar; its celebration is a kind of mash-up between Mardi Gras, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve…all based on the Book of Esther.

Our tradition tells us to be happy, but it’s not like we can just flip a switch when the month begins and suddenly find our mood improved.  Making ourselves happier involves effort and practice, but it is something that most of us are capable of accomplishing.  A recent article on www.cnn.com discusses this topic along with the research showing that being happy can actually help us live longer!  Here is the link: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/30/health/happiness-live-longer-wellness/index.html.  It turns out that we can concentrate on certain behaviors that can lead us to be happier, which has a kind of snowball effect.

Judaism gives us many opportunities to find joy–more than just on Purim.  The blessings and prayers we recite help us to focus on the many good things in our lives; they help us to recognize the beauty and wonder of our world.  The Sabbath and holidays also have elements of celebration, allowing us to transcend the often-depressing reality of most of our days.  Adar is an opportunity for us to re-focus on joy.  It is not a one-time shot, but rather an ongoing practice that cannot only make us happy, but also give us more time to enjoy that happiness.

Take Care of your Tootsies

Gym Shoes

When I was studying to become a personal trainer, one of the units we studied had to do with proper footwear in the gym. When I first read it, I thought “duh.” Everyone knows we need to wear the “sneakers” in the gym, but do know we what a difference it can make? The right support and alignment is essential. With the wrong footwear, we can misalign our kinetic chain (ie., we can throw off our knees, hips and back).

It can actually be a bit confusing. It should go without saying that wearing street shoes in the gym is not a good idea, but it is not that unusual to see them–especially on older adults. I’ve had to have the conversation with clients more than once about having the proper shoes on during our workouts.

What kind of shoe is best to wear? It depends on what you are planning to do. If you are planning to simply do strength training, a pair of cross-trainers is usually a good bet. These are not the same as running shoes, which are specifically designed for running–providing support in different ways than cross-trainers. Basketball shoes are different as well. Of course, if you are going to a spinning class (riding stationary bikes), there are specific shoes for that as well. It can get pricey.

How do you know what to do? If you already have foot issues (pain, plantar fasciitis, etc.), talk with your podiatrist first. Find out what s/he recommends. I was wearing one kind of shoe for a while but once my plantar fasciitis kicked in, my doctor had me change the kind of shoe that I wear; I now use one with a much firmer sole.

If you do not generally have issues with your feet, your next step is to go to a good athletic footwear store. Every city has one. This is not your big box store but usually locally-owned or a small chain. The folks in these stores deal with pretty much one thing and one thing only: athletic footwear. If you explain to them the kind of workouts that you do, what issues you might have, etc., they can get the best shoe for you.

What not to do? I do not recommend getting your shoes from on-line retailers unless you are experienced and know the brand/model that you need. Also, do not go to a shoe warehouse–unless you know the exact brand/model you are looking for. Even then, exercise caution as you may not have the proper fit and those working in the store may not be well trained to help you.

Take care of your tootsies! It may not seem like such an important thing, but if you’ve ever had the experience of not being able to use one or the other, you’ll know just how important it is to care for them properly. Take the few simple steps to make sure that you are not only caring for your feet, but also everything above them!

Where Does Torah Come From?

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Torah is at the very center of Judaism.  When we talk about “Torah,” though, not everyone means the same thing.  A literalist approach would argue that the Torah is what was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai as described in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro; those same individuals might include the Oral Torah as also having been received at the same time.

Others think of Torah more broadly.  Torah is from the same word as Moreh/Morah–teacher.  It is roughly translated as instruction.  There are those who think of Torah as any kind of Jewish learning.

Parashat Yitro relates the “official” story of where instruction came from.  There is a sense, however, that what was revealed to Moses and our people at Mt. Sinai continues to be revealed on a regular basis.  As time goes on and we make more discoveries, we further uncover God’s instructions and God’s will.  In this respect, Torah not only comes from our past–and from a place far away, but Torah also comes from a place very close to us every day.

Our lives are enriched by Torah–by the instructions we receive from many sources; those instructions help us to find our place in the world and what God wants from us.  Do not believe that all there is to know about Torah and the world is known already.  The search for Torah is never-ending.

Vaping in the Gym

No Vaping

You read that right, “vaping in the gym.”

Yesterday evening, I went for a run on the indoor track that runs around the main gym, but up a level. When running on the track it is possible to look below and see kids playing on toys, adults playing Pickleball, and teens playing basketball. I could not believe my eyes when I saw–of all things!–three teenage boys vaping IN THE GYM on the side of the basketball court.

I work at the gym and, even though I was not in uniform, when I got around the track to where they were I stopped running and called down to them. “Excuse me, gentlemen!” They saw where the voice was coming from and I said “You can’t do that here.” One of them said, rather sheepishly, “I’m sorry.” I responded, “don’t be sorry–just don’t do it!”

The same boys were seen and reported by two members vaping again the Fitness Center. I would say that I was speechless when I heard this, but this is a blog so I’ve got to write about it.

I know this shouldn’t matter, but what really bugged me was that the boys were obviously Jewish teens. How did I know? They were dressed in clothing and “accessories” that clearly identified them as Jews–and observant ones at that. Ugh.

I know this isn’t fair. I find it horrifying when I see any young person (or any person for that matter) vaping or smoking. It is so clearly detrimental to one’s health. Do I need to quote articles and health journals? We’ve known for a while just how damaging and addictive it can be. It is also a very expensive “habit.” How people still vape and smoke is beyond me.

Why does it bother me that they were Jewish…and apparently observant? How does one follow the Jewish laws so closely–so much so that it dictates their dress, diet, social interactions, etc.–and at the same time destroy one’s own body–a potentially holy vessel given by God?

There may not be a commandment in the Torah that says Thou Shalt Not Vape, but Jewish law clearly mandates that we have an obligation to preserve our health so that we will live and be able to serve God and our fellow human beings. How can someone care so much about the food that goes into their body and ignore the noxious chemicals they inhale? It is a total disconnect.

It is important for all religious leaders to share the dangers of vaping and smoking. We also need to call out the cigarette and vape companies that market to teens and young adults. They know that if they can create an addict early, they will have a customer for life.

Vaping in the gym? Sadly, yes. We can do better. We owe it to the next generation to get the message out.