Those familiar with the upcoming (in just a few hours) holiday of Rosh Hashanah know that the next 10 days (The Ten Days of Repentance) are a time for reflection. We consider our actions over the last year and plan how we can do better in the coming one. It is a process that we repeat every year and, as we do, hopefully we get closer to the best version of ourselves.
I think about this not only on a personal level, but also with regard to my life’s work as a personal trainer and a rabbi. I know that on both accounts I can always do better and I work hard to achieve that goal. The same is true with this blog. I am grateful to those who have offered me constructive advice (mostly my brother, Joel) as I hone by blogging craft.
When this blog started it was supposed to be about the intersection between Judaism and Fitness; I saw it as a way to integrate the two career paths that have occupied my adult life. Over time, the blog has come to focus much more on fitness–especially as it impacts older adults. I have wondered if (and how) I should change the name of the blog and its description. I often ask myself just how kosher this blog is.
For the time being, I do not plan to make any big changes. Most of the current content–90% of which does not involve anything explicitly Jewish–deals with issues of how we care for ourselves. I began this blog with the premise that caring for our bodies is indeed a Jewish value. Of course, this is not an idea I came up with on my own; the sages of our tradition understood that we could not fulfill our role (individually or as a part of a people) unless we had the strength and stamina to do it. This is borne out in Psalm 117 which states that the dead cannot praise the Lord. Unless we care for our bodies, we cannot serve God nor our fellow human beings. Ultimately, my blog continues to deal with the intersection of Judaism and Fitness–implicitly if not explicitly.
The next Ten Days will be a time of reflection and repentance for Jews around the world and for me. It is my hope that during this period–and beyond–I will be guided to do the most good possible through my work as a rabbi, personal trainer, and blogger.
Wishing all my readers who celebrate, a very happy 5783! May all humanity be blessed with good health, happiness, justice, peace, and fitness!
This evening at sunset begins Rosh Chodesh Elul, the observance of the new month of Elul on the Jewish calendar. It is the last month before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
There are many observances connected with Elul. In order to “wake us up” from our complacency, it is traditional to blow the shofar (ram’s horn) each morning during the month except on the Sabbath. We also recite Psalm 27 every evening and morning. These practices are aimed at preparing us for the difficult and sacred work of repentance that takes place during the first 10 days of the New Year.
The name of the month is also quite special. It is an acrostic in Hebrew for Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li, which is based on the verse from the Song of Songs and means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Traditionally, the Song of Songs is seen as an allegory for the love between God and the Children of Israel; the name of the Hebrew month reminds us of our relationship with God and that we should be especially cognizant of repairing and strengthening our connection with the Holy One.
Because this verse is often recited at a Jewish wedding, it also refers to relationships with our loved ones and partners. This is a month when we should work on repairing and strengthening our human connections too.
Additionally, we should be concerned about our relationship with ourselves. Do we make an effort to treat others right but not afford the same to ourselves? We all know the famous verse, V’Ahavta l’Reacha Kamocha, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What if you really do not love yourself? What if you pay lip service to self-care (in all its many forms) but do not take action when it comes to being the best version of yourself you can be? How can we love others if we do not learn to love ourselves first?
This applies to fitness, but many other areas as well. The High Holidays are all about forgiveness, but sometimes the person with whom we are the least forgiving is ourselves. We beat ourselves up for making missteps. We compare ourselves unfavorably to others. We always put the needs of others ahead of our own to our detriment. It is not a luxury or conceit to care for one’s self. We are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but to do that we must first love ourselves. This requires concrete action. During the month of Elul, this is our focus. Not only should we concentrate on how we interact with others and God, but also with how we treat our own souls. Beyond contemplation, we plan for how to change in concrete ways in the coming year.
Wishing everyone a great month ahead. Whether you are Jewish or not, observant or not, this is as good a time as any to refocus and remember to be beloved to ourselves too!
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this coming Monday evening at sunset. It ushers in a period known as the Ten Days of Repentance that ends with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.
Unlike the frivolity and celebration of the secular New Year, this ten-day period is more serious. It is ideally spent in prayer and reflection. Traditionally, Jews review the last year in what is called in Hebrew, Cheshbon HaNefesh, literally an “Accounting of the Soul.” We look at the “asset column” of the positive things we did in the last 12 months; and then we look at the “debit column” of things that did not quite work out well, where we could have done better. Hopefully the good outweighs the bad, but no matter how the ledger sheet balances out, our attention turns to how we can do better in the coming year.
As a rabbi and personal trainer, I see an intersection between the “Accounting of the Soul” and an “Accounting of our Health.” Of course, there is spiritual health, but none of that is possible unless we take care of the body in which our spirit resides. Additionally, Judaism teaches that in the final analysis we are judged not by our thoughts/beliefs, but rather by what we do. “Doing” requires a body that is well enough to act. We can have all the best intentions to make our lives and the world around us a better place, but ultimately we have to find a way to move past intentions into action. This requires our body to be healthy.
The connection between body and spirit is well established in Judaism. At this time of the year, we would be wise to not only consider spiritual matters; we should also commit to living in a way that allows our bodies to bring blessing and holiness to others. An “Accounting of our Health” should be part and parcel of this holy season.
Best wishes to all those who celebrate Rosh Hashanah for a happy, healthy, and fit 5782!
I’m not usually big on New Year’s Resolutions–either for the secular or Jewish New Year–but for the Jewish Year 5780 (which commences in just a few hours), I have resolved to ask “Why?”
I have found that many times in life I have jumped to conclusions about why someone feels the way they do or acts the way they do. I often think that I know what their motivations are. I make assumptions about who they are, their background, their situation, or even their hopes and dreams. Often this is based on the political party they support, the TV News channel they watch, or their views on issues in the US and in Israel. I think we all do that.
Sometimes we nail it, but other times we are not exactly right or completely wrong. How will we ever know if we don’t ask?
This year I am resolving to as “why?” a whole lot more. Instead of thinking that someone is a jerk, or an idiot, or uncaring, I will ask “why do you feel that way?” “Why did you do that?” “Why do you support this?” “Why do you oppose that?”
In the end, it may turn out that I do not like their motivation or their explanation. I might still disagree with that person on an issue. Even so, it least I will have a better understanding of where they are coming from and what makes them tick.
Even better, instead of just dismissing a person out of hand or giving them a round of applause and a bunch of “you rocks,” I will let them know that I am truly interested in them. I think we need more of this in the fractious society in which we live. We all need to stop judging books by their covers and start asking “why?”
Want to know more about why I chose this as my resolution? Perhaps you can ask me why.
As the clock ticks down to Rosh Hashanah, there is a lot on my mind. Just like any Shabbat, there are all kinds of preparations that need to be completed: food prepared, Divrei Torah to write, clothes to get ready, etc. In the midst of all those preparations, we can sometimes lose sight of why we are doing all this preparation. If we have a wonderful meal on the table, new clothes, shiny shoes and the house all tidied up, but we have not given serious thought to the hard job of Teshuva–doing atonement–we are not really ready for the holiday. We are lucky to have this coming Shabbat to take a break in the rush to get ready for the spiritual part of the holiday. It is a great time to consider: what have I done well this past year? What needs improvement? What goals did I set last year, and did I achieve them? How will this year be different? None of this is rocket science, but it is easy to forget the “reason for the season.” Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah from my family to yours!
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.
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.