It is the new year, and the Aaron Family JCC fitness department is seeing those who have made being fit and healthy one of their resolutions. We all know how resolutions tend to go, but there is always hope.
A few Jewish thoughts may help motivate you to continue working out. We too often have the picture of the Jew who keeps his (or her) head in the books, and that is important. But that is not all our sages have promoted and written about.
Here are some excerpts from an article by Abbie Greenberg that came from JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance:
• Already in the Talmud (Shabbat 82a), Rav Huna urges his son Rabbah to study with Rav Hisda. Rabbah resists, saying that Rav Hisda focuses only on secular matters: anatomy and hygiene. Rav Huna admonishes his son, saying, “He speaks of health matters, and you call that secular.”
• Maimonides states that a person “should engage one’s body and exert oneself in a sweat-producing task each morning.”
• Martin Buber recorded a story of Rav Simhah Bunim, of Przysucha, who took very literally the words of our prayer that relate to physical awareness. According to the story, Rav Simhah arrived late for synagogue one Shabbat morning. When asked why he was so late, he quoted from Pesukei d’Zimra, preliminary blessings and psalms, which he had missed reciting because of his lateness: “All my bones shall say, who is like You, God?” How then, Rav Simhah asked, could he come to pray before his bones were all awake?
• In the 20th century, Rav Kook went much further in connecting physical and spiritual health. He claimed that physical health is in itself a value in the process of repentance and that, in each human organism, there is a constant reciprocal relationship between body and spirit.
Rav Kook promoted a Zionism that strove to restore health to the body of the Jewish people so that its spiritual life could flower to its fullest. He intended this restoration to occur not only on the metaphorical level in terms of the strength of the State of Israel, but also with respect to the strength of every person.
All of the sages placed emphasis on the body/soul connection — a concept that is coming back into our fitness programs today. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation are all part of many fitness regimes. The most important value in life is balance, and Judaism has always spoken to this need.
As we go into this new year, let’s promise ourselves that we will strive for balance in our study, our exercise, our families, our work — we do not need to do everything in every area of our lives, but we do need to live a well-rounded life.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.