Choose to Shine
I began writing this column over ten years ago, when The Jewish Echo magazine first began. Reflecting on what I have penned in this space in years past, January was usually a time where people consider making resolutions for improvement during the coming year. Although the traditional time for self-analysis in the Jewish calendar is during the High Holy Days, the reality is that January is when people think about renewing their gym membership, dieting, and other steps towards self- improvement.
One of my own focal points has often been how to lose weight and get into better shape. Resolutions come and go, to no avail. Here I am, ten or twenty or thirty years later, and the improvements I’d hoped to make are not coming to fruition. Intellectually, I know how important it is to eat a balanced diet, to drink enough water, and to get enough sleep. Yet when the time comes to make a decision, I often delay taking the actions I need and instead make excuses that one more piece of pie won’t make a difference in the long run.
Welcome to the long run. All of those accumulated decisions failed to realize my personal goals. Why can’t I keep to a plan? What makes it so difficult to live in a way that my brain and my sense tells me is best for me?
I had a fascinating chat with someone who used to live here in Marine Park. He and I were discussing this subject. He asked me how it made me feel in the moment as I sampled everything at a smorgasbord. I came to realize that eating brings comfort and love. I understand that sounds odd. Food is not love. And yet, in my own upbringing and throughout my life, food has played a large role in my self- worth and even how I express my love for others. I enjoy cooking and, preparing tasty meals. Even the presentation is important to me. This could be why I enjoy volunteering with survivors of the Holocaust, bringing them Shabbos food each week with the MeForWe project. This brings me joy.
I learned that I can replace food with something else to show myself love. When I take that extra walk, when I go to sleep on time, when I choose to eat healthy options and not overeat, those are all good ways of taking care of myself and really demonstrating self- worth, self-care. Love does not have to be about food anymore.
As I absorbed these thoughts, it occurred to me that this idea can provide insight into our relationship with Hashem. Some people have the mistaken belief that Hashem needs us to obey the commandments. They live life in a constant struggle of being compelled to do the mitzvos, to pray, to learn, versus what they would rather be doing. They get by doing the bare minimums that they are obligated to do, and can’t wait until they have their free time to do whatever they want to do.
Let’s reframe. Hashem is perfect. He lacks nothing. However, He does love. He loves the most wicked person even more than you or I will ever love anyone or anything. He wants each one of us to succeed and develop into our best selves. How do we do that? Despite what people think, the answer does not lie in abandoning ourselves to whatever we want, whenever we want. Counterintuitively, the more control we have over our baser nature, the freer we become. We are no longer led like animals by whatever urges our bodies concoct. We break free of the chains of our physical existence. Instead of living to eat, we eat to live, and only in the manner that our intellect chooses as the best path for us.
The only One who can instruct us how to be happy in this world and in the next is the One who designed, created, and runs it, all for our benefit. He is waiting for us until our final breath to return to Him and to become the very best that we can be by learning His Torah and performing His mitzvos.