Friday, July 26, 2013

Eikev 5773

“…man does not live by bread alone, but rather by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the L-rd…” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 8:3)

This week’s Torah portion gives us food for thought. The first part of this verse is well known, but it is the second part that provides its meaning. Technically, people can survive on bread and water, just as certain animals survive solely on grass. However, human bodies demand variety in the diet. The world accommodates us with gourmet meals, sweet treats and convenience food. But why is man unable to live by bread alone? And why do so many people eat more “bread” than their bodies need?

Writes Rabbi Stephen Baars on “Human beings, unlike animals, need ‘meaning’ in life…This drives us to want more than just bread. Even though it is a poor substitute for real fulfillment and meaning, food is often the focus of our quest for meaning…Unfortunately, we are sometimes so badly focused that we will look to fulfill it [our quest for meaning] in the most unlikely and sometimes counter-productive places.”

Rabbi Baars explains that since people cannot live on bread alone, we will either fill ourselves with substantial and real meaning – a relationship with G-d – or we will seek unsatisfying substitutes for meaning, such as food.

Rambam includes a section on proper diet in his Yad Chazaka. He advises not to eat solely to satisfy the palate, but in order to keep the body healthy so it is able to serve G-d. Further, he counsels to eat only when hungry, and to stop eating before becoming completely full or overfilled.

As parents, we must teach our children mindful eating. They must learn to ask themselves if they are truly hungry and in need of refueling their bodies, or just bored and in a down mood, looking for stimulation in the wrong place.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vaetchanan 5773

In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe (Moses) continues to address the people of Israel, preparing them to enter the Land of Israel.

And you shall guard your souls very much...” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:15)

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in his book, Growth Through Torah, explains that Torah here commands us to safeguard our health. He cites the Chofetz Chayim who notes that the text uses the Hebrew word nefesh, soul, and does not explicitly refer to the body. The Kabbalist Rabbi Rafael Moshe Luria explains that the nefesh is bound to the body’s material needs and it motivates our physical urges such as eating, drinking and sleeping.

Writes Rabbi Pliskin: “This [verse] comes to teach that whenever you are involved in matters pertaining to the welfare of your body, such as business matters or eating, you must be careful not to do anything that will be harmful to your soul. Before doing anything for your body’s needs, give careful thought not to do anything against the will of the Almighty.”

The Chofetz Chayim emphasizes the importance of getting enough sleep (a constant struggle for overtaxed parents). In Hebrew, the word nefesh is closely related to the word nafash, refresh or rest, as in “On the seventh day He [G-d] ceased work and rested.” (Shemot/Exodus 31:17) The soul needs time to refresh itself and must do this through sleep, or at least through rest from work and creative endeavors.

As parents, we may find that our children have a hard time going to bed and falling asleep. Younger children may fear the dark, or separation from family (if they sleep alone); older children might be over-stimulated or believe they will miss something if they close their eyes. Most parenting and sleep experts advise conducting a peaceful, ritualized bedtime routine. Torah sets one in place in this week’s portion.

“Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elloheinu, Adonai Echad.” Hear O Israel, the L-rd Our G-d, The L-rd is One. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:4)

And you shall teach them to your children and speak of them when…you lie down…” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:7)

When we make saying Shema a part of our bedtime ritual, we ensure that we and our children feel safe and secure. We go to sleep knowing and trusting that G-d is safeguarding our rest, just as He watches over us when we are awake and responsible for safeguarding our souls.   

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Devarim 5773

These are the devarim (words) which Moshe (Moses) spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Chazerot and Di Zahav.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 1:1)

Thus begins the fifth and final book of Torah, Devarim. During his remaining days as leader, Moshe reiterates the laws and prepares the people for their future life in Israel. As part of his review Moshe subtly reminds the people of their past transgressions.

Why does Torah list the places in which the people of Israel sinned, rather than naming the transgressions?   

Writes Rashi citing Sifrei: “These are words of rebuke and he [Moshe] enumerates here all the places where they angered the Omnipresent, [but] makes no explicit mention of the incidents [and] rather merely alludes to them, out of respect for Israel.”

Moshe is careful to be respectful in his criticism so that he will be able to inspire the people to improve their behavior. Writes Rabbi Pinchas Winston on “What came through his words was his love of the people, a people who had been the very cause of his own downfall. Yet, he restrained himself in their honor, and any criticism that reveals love is one that inspires change for the better.”

As parents, we may find ourselves criticizing our children for flaws in their behavior. If we would truthfully examine our own behavior, we likely would find the same flaws.  Writes Rabbi Winston: “To another adult one can say, ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ and maybe get away with it. However, children have difficulty separating philosophy from action, and end up imitating their parents’ actions despite their parents’ philosophy to the contrary. Whereas adults may reject criticism with the words ‘you’re just like me’, children may escape criticism by saying ‘I’m just like you.’”

Rabbi Winston suggests that we parents admit to our children that we have flaws, that we have made mistakes and that we would like to change. We should tell them that because of our own weaknesses, we understand how hard it is to change one’s behavior. We should remind them how much we care about them and the quality of their lives, and encourage them to change their behavior to improve their lives. Perhaps, then, we will be inspired to change our own behavior.

Published in loving memory of Rachel bas Sholom. May her holy neshama (soul) have an aliya (rise) in Shamayim (the heavens) and may her memory be for blessing.