The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Healing.

On the eve of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur–the holiest day in the Jewish year–the theme of forgiveness is on my mind. The holiday is also known as the Day of Atonement; it is, according to tradition, the day in which our transgressions are forgiven by God.

It is actually a more complicated matter. Judaism teaches that the rituals of Yom Kippur are just the final step in the process of true repentance. If we have committed a sin against God (by not following the ritual laws in the Torah) we are hopefully forgiven on this day through fasting and prayer. If we have offended another person, forgiveness doesn’t happen until we have confessed the sin, tried to make it right with the other person, and vowed to not repeat the offense.

It feels great to be forgiven. It is a central part of many religions. Of course, forgiving others is a little more difficult. Over the years, there are people or even institutions who have hurt us (and continue to do so); how do we find a way to forgive them?

I blogged about this back in June. Here is the link: https://kosher-fitness.com/2020/06/15/will-i-be-forgiven-will-i-forgive-others-2/

I was inspired by the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand to seek ways to forgive others who have offended/hurt me. With the assistance of a professional who helped me sort through the issues and the process, I discovered that it was actually not as hard as I thought it would be to forgive. I accepted that those who had hurt me were doing what they thought best (even if the outcome for me was difficult) and that their actions gave me opportunities that would not have existed otherwise.

What was most difficult was learning to forgive myself. I have made mistakes and that is OK. I also know that I expect an awful lot from myself; my parents set very high standard for my siblings and me. I know that I don’t need to be perfect and I should accept that I was also doing what I thought best (even if the outcome was difficult for me and others close to me).

Learning to forgive has been a healing process. The churn in my brain of anger and resentment has quieted down; I do not replay scenarios over and over in my head. When the individuals involved come to mind, my response to myself is “oh well.” I have become a non-anxious observer of past events in my life.

I have not reached nirvana. I am not perfect. There are people out there who annoy me and even disrespect me (my perceptions, of course), but I am trying to practice compassion during this difficult time. Even so, I feel mentally healthier. I am not holding the grudges. I am letting things slide…or I just left off steam and then drop it. My overall attitude has improved and I feel like I am able to pivot more adeptly to constructive attitudes and actions.

Forgiveness should not be restricted to once a year. It should be an ongoing process. It is good for our health. Need help with this? There are professionals out there who can guide us.

Wishing everyone who observes Yom Kippur a meaningful fast, a HEALTHY year, and the gift of forgiving and being forgiven.

Shabbat Shuvah: Recharge

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This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath that comes between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Traditionally, it has been considered (along with Shabbat Hagadol before Passover) to be one of the most “important” Shabbatot of the year; it was one of two times during the year when rabbis were required to give a sermon to get the flock in order.
Why is this Shabbat so critical?  In the coming days, we will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  According to our tradition, this is the day on which our sins are forgiven and wiped away…well, at least some of our sins.  Transgressions committed against God could be erased, but those committed against our fellow human beings could not be forgiven until we had made proper atonement for our offenses.  
But can’t this process occur at any time?  Can’t we choose to make things right with God and those around us during the other 364 days of the year?  Yes we can.  Yom Kippur, however, is kind of like marking a fiscal year; it is the day that Judaism recognizes as a time to take care of all that unfinished business.  The fact that it is accompanied by fasting and prayer helps us to focus on our spirits and less on the everyday distractions that often prevent us from being our best selves.
Shabbat Shuvah is the day on which we rest and recharge from Rosh Hashanah to prepare ourselves properly for the task at hand.  We need all our energy–physical and spiritual–to make the changes so that we can be right with our fellow humans and God.  Shabbat Shuvah (with or without a sermon!) is essential for our success.
Wishing all a Shabbat Shalom, and meaningful and productive fast.

Fasting and Intermittent Fasting

empty plate

Today on the Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av; it is a 25-hour fast that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Ancient Jerusalem. Aside from Yom Kippur, it is the only full fast (others just go from sunrise to sunset)…and I’ve got about 6 hours to go.

The goal of the fast (which is the case on Yom Kippur too) is not to lose weight or to suffer greatly, but rather to focus less on the physical and more on the metaphysical. Tisha B’Av causes those who observe it to reflect on the history of the Jewish people: the enemies who have arisen against us from the outside, as well as the enemies from within. Not having to think about eating (which isn’t easy), allows the day to be mostly spiritual, and also gives us a small taste of the suffering of our ancestors.

Interestingly, fasting has been a hot trend in the diet/fitness world the last several years. In particular, a lot of attention has been paid to Intermittent Fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting? There are several versions. One way to do it is to restrict eating to only certain times of the day (generally an 8-hour period). Others fast one or two days out of the week. Others choose 1-3 days to eat a very restricted calorie count (say around 500 KCals) during the week, and eat normally the rest of the week. The science behind it is that during the fasting periods, the body is required to burn fat in order to maintain its regular functions; in particular, this kind of fasting seems to target belly fat. Other health benefits may include better control of insulin and cholesterol levels.

Why this is appealing to many is that you don’t have to think about calories or only eating certain kinds of food. The process is very simple: eat during certain times and not during others. This can also simplify the dieting process: no need for extensive reading of labels, less meals to plan , etc. Of course, one shouldn’t assume that during non-fasting times root beer floats, corned beef sandwiches and tubs of whipped topping should be the staples of the diet. As always, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and less-processed foods are recommended.

I started doing Intermittent Fasting many years ago not really knowing that it was a “thing.” I noticed that I grazed a LOT after dinner, and it added up to hundreds of calories. I made a rule for myself that I still follow pretty closely: after dinner, no eating! I can drink calorie-free liquids, but that is it. (I do make exceptions for special occasions but don’t go crazy). I found that it helps me control my weight and that my cravings for after-dinner snacks quickly subsided.

There is admittedly a big difference between the kind of religious fasting to which many of us are accustomed (Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc.), but there is a commonality as well. While one focuses on a physiological goal and the other on a more spiritual goal, both require self-control and self-sacrifice. Both also are means to an end: either greater physical health or greater spiritual awareness.

Readers, I would be interested to know how many of you have tried Intermittent Fasting, or if you currently practice it now. What are the challenges and what are the advantages? What are the results you have seen?

I am a believer–as long as it is done in moderation. Before jumping into Intermittent Fasting, though, do some research and talk to your physician. Be safe and be healthy.

There are many articles on the topic on-line, but a good introduction is: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide .

Wishing those observing Tisha B’Av a meaningful fast.