Reasons to be Thankful…Really

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As the Jewish year draws to a close, many of us are thinking about our successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies over the last 13 months (it was a leap year). We also begin to think about the changes we want to make in the coming year.

One area upon which we should be reflecting is “what are we grateful for?” For sure, we have no problem coming up with what didn’t work right, what is annoying, and what is just a hot mess. Most of us probably spend a lot less time thinking about what is going right: the people in our lives, the many blessings we enjoy, the love that surrounds us. It reminds me of people who complain when a flight is delayed (which is an annoyance for sure), with little thought for the wonder of flight and little regard for the fact that just 100 years ago the same trip might have taken days or weeks.

A study reveals that developing a greater sense of gratitude is good for our health–mental and physical. It is described in this article: https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/?utm_source=link&utm_medium=fb&utm_campaign=sq&utm_content=dhp&fbclid=IwAR1Jaqb8PoCWfKtVmcG8YprLSbpisoYATjfM1mR1byrtV8lVtg5C-lPcXvU.

People who developed a practice of recognizing and expressing gratitude had a more positive outlook and had less health problems according to the study. The more optimistic you are the less likely you are to have sleep disorders, inflammatory diseases and heart failure.

The neuroscience also shows that it is possible to nurture our sense of gratitude and actually rewire our brain (through new neural pathways) so that we can strengthen these healthy tendencies. Of course, this means we will emit more positive “vibes” which will rub off on others. This can create what the article calls a “virtuous cycle.”

This will not happen automatically. We need to create patterns of thankfulness. In the study, participants were asked to keep a log of positive things that happened, or things for which they were thankful each day. This along heightened the sense of gratitude. It went beyond just the rote recitation of the words “thank you,” often stated quite thoughtlessly.

Psalm 92 says “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” This is true, but now there is scientific truth that backs it up…and we can achieve that “good” by thanking those around us too.

Thanks for reading this!

A Victory in Israel

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What a week it has been in the Jewish world.  Just a few days ago, Israel held its re-take election and although there weren’t any major shifts in the results from the last elections held earlier this year, there was enough of a change to put Kachol v’Lavan ahead of Likud by two Knesset seats (at last count).
For some people, this was a sigh of relief; they have viewed Netanyahu’s tenure as having gone on too long with too little progress made.  Others are distressed, wondering how they will be kept safe given the rough neighborhood (Iran and Saudi Arabia as a case in point).
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum in Israel or in the US, this week was a victory for Israel.  The Torah–and in particular the Book of Deuteronomy–outline what the new society in the Promised Land would like.  We never achieved the ideal.  After the destruction of both Temples and the dispersion, Jews dreamed that a messiah would return us to our homeland.  That did not happen either.
Instead, with hard work, determination, political savvy and too many wars, Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel is a reality.  It has not reached its ideal yet.  The relatively young nation is still finding its way, but Tuesday’s elections show that democracy is alive and well.  Another reason to celebrate this Shabbat!

The After-Bathroom Blessing

If you’ve ever been “irregular,” you know what a blessing it can be when you finally “go.” What a relief it is. You may even thank God that if finally happened!

In Jewish tradition, there is actually a blessing that one is supposed to say every time one uses the toilet. The blessing, know by its short form Asher Yatzar in Hebrew, is recited by more observant Jews as another way of elevating and sanctifying even the most base and animal-like functions of daily life.

Here is the text of the blessing in Hebrew and English:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים .גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶךָ, שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ אַפִלּוּ שָׁעָה אֶחָת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת:”

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor that if even one of them would be opened, or if even one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

This past Shabbat afternoon, I taught a lunch and learn at my congregation, Beth El – The Heights Synagogue, about the mind-body-spirit connection. I referred to this blessing because it is key to understanding the Jewish view of the human body. The blessing is quite biological in its content; there are openings in our bodies that need to stay open, and things that are closed that need to stay closed. Any of us who has ever had something that wouldn’t close (or heal properly) or had something that should be open that isn’t (constipation, for example), knows just how difficult and painful it can be. If it is not eventually resolved, the results can be quite serious.

What is central to the blessing is the idea that if things are not working properly it would be impossible to survive and stand before God. In other words, if we are not healthy we cannot do what it is that God expects of us: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, supporting the cause of the disadvantaged, pursuing justice, seeking peace, etc. We need our bodies to help make this world a better and more whole place. Our spirits and good thoughts alone won’t cut it; we need to get our hands dirty and put some elbow grease into it.

So it is that every time our body works successfully, an observant Jew thanks God that it is all working…because when it does, we can fulfill our mission in God’s creation.

It seems odd at first to say a blessing after using the bathroom, but upon further reflection, there is something meaningful about reminding ourselves on a (hopefully) “regular” basis to be thankful to God and to get busy with the work of creating a better world. Not only that, it compels us to take care of ourselves (eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, don’t smoke, etc.), so that we can best ensure that we will be able to stand before God and our fellow human beings.

To Paraphrase: Sometimes It’s Not Just About You

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The beginning of Parashat Ki Tetze gives instructions for when an Israelite soldier finds a woman attractive among the captives of the conquest and wishes to take her as a wife.
The man is to bring her to his home, trim her nails and cut her hair.  She also removes her captive’s garb.  These seem to be signs of mourning.  The text continues by telling us that she is to mourn her parents for thirty days–presumably because she will never see them again.
At first read, this text might appear to be sensitive.  The man’s emotions are clear:  he is in love and has desire.  The verses tell us that he must first take into her feelings; her mourning for what her life was and might have been is real and must be recognized.  This seems unusual since the Torah does not often deal with feelings.
While we may take some comfort in knowing that the Torah has sensitivity toward the woman’s feelings, we must not forget that it does not change her fate.  Her life was not in her control; she became an object rather than a subject in her destiny.
Even so, it is instructive that the Torah mentions that when it comes to emotions, we must look beyond what we are feeling alone.  There is always another side to the story that deserves validation and respect.
Shabbat Shalom!

What Happens When You Only Read the Headline

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An interesting article appeared on http://www.cnn.com a few days ago with the following headline: “Vegetarians might have higher risk of stroke than meat eaters, study says.” NOOOOOOOO!

I have been a pescatarian for nearly 15 years and this news was shocking to me…or, at least, the headline was. Read the article, and one gets a very different story.

Although there is a higher risk of stroke (which some believe was a conclusion reached incorrectly by the researchers due to their misuse of “weighting” in the study), vegetarians are at a much lower risk of heart disease. In fact, the lower risk to heart health far outweighs the risk of stroke.

What was the “weighting?” The study took into account in classifying study subjects that vegetarians are, in general, more healthy than meat-eaters. Well, duh. The study comes from BMJ, a very well-respected journal out of London, UK. The article from CNN, though, suggests that more research is needed. So, nothing like publishing a misleading headline about an inconclusive and possible flawed study. I guess that is what they mean by click-bait.

By the way, pescatarians are not at the same risk of stroke and reap most of the benefits with regard to heart health. So you may still want to put those ribs down and reach for some halibut or salmon.

A warning: don’t just get your news from reading headlines–be they about health or any other topic–spend the few minutes needed to read the article–especially before you post it online or share it with friends.

Here is the link: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/04/health/vegetarian-vegan-diet-stroke-heart-disease-risk-intl/index.html

You May Want to Put Down that French Fry

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I’m not sure if this is child abuse, but it certainly sounds like child neglect. Here is the first line of the article: “A British teenager who had been a ‘fussy eater’ since elementary school lost his vision and suffered significant hearing loss due to his yearslong diet of junk food, according to a case report published Monday.”

It goes on to describe how this “picky eater” began to suffer symptoms as a result of his diet at around age 14. By the time he was 17, he had hearing loss and was considered legally blind. Wow! I feel sorry for this kid–no really, I do.

First, I feel badly that he has to endure these health issues. Second, I feel badly that neither his parents/guardians/teachers/doctors had the cajones to do something about it. Children should not be making healthcare-related decisions–and I believe this is one; that is up to parents until a child turns 18.

The article explains that the child’s issue had to do with the texture of certain foods. This sounds like an autism spectrum issue, but that should not be an excuse for poor nutrition. To rely on fish & chips, processed ham slices and sausage, Pringles and white bread is simply not acceptable…and part of the blame has to go to those who cared for him. I have a son on the autism spectrum and while he certainly had his preferences about food–as did each of my kids–I made sure that he had well-balanced meals that he enjoyed.

As for the rest of us, this is a warning. It does matter what we eat. Our bodies need to be properly fueled. They will not function if certain nutrients are absent. While it is true that we can take supplements to make up the difference (I take Fish Oil, Vitamin D, and Multivitamin every day), there is no substitute for a healthy, mostly non-processed, balanced diet.

Are french fries evil? Will they blind our next generation? No and no. While not the healthiest choice, the occasional serving of french fries is OK…and depending on where you get them, they may even be good for your mental health! Just don’t overdo it.

Here is the link to the full article: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/blinded-junk-food-teen-loses-eyesight-years-long-bad-diet-n1049181

Justice, Justice…Have We Pursued?

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Parashat Shoftim is perhaps most well known for the verse containing the commandment, Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”  It is popular because it expresses a notion that is at the core of Judaism and Jewish practice.


It is an idea that we can all get behind, but when it comes to putting it into action, it is a little more complicated.  First, not everyone agrees on what justice might be in a given case.  Second, we have a well-established legal system to which we turn in order to administer affairs of justice.  Third, there is a not-so-fine line between pursuing justice and vigilantism.


Despite the “messy” nature of justice, the Torah exhorts us–repeating the word justice–to pursue it.  As we are in the month of Elul, it is worth thinking about how we do or do not follow this commandment.  We should ask ourselves, “when was the last time I pursued justice?”  Can we remember what it was or when it was?  If not, it means that we must recommit to the pursuit of justice despite the obstacles.


“Justice, justice shall you pursue,” is not just a platitude.  It is at the core of how we must live our lives.


Shabbat Shalom!