Get Your Daily Exercise Published in the Baltimore Jewish Times Parsha Eikev Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
I remember vividly when I was a teenager how my rabbi, Rav Cohen, would play basketball and soccer with us every day. During the noon break at my Yeshiva in Israel, he would join us in the field and repeat a famous saying: "A healthy soul comes from a healthy body." I have since carried that message with me, from my youth, through my military service, right to the present day.
Physical exercise has spiritual benefits. A powerful treadmill workout or any vigorous exercise program will leave a person feeling energetic and refreshed. Just the reverse, by missing several days of exercise, a person will lack vitality and feel incomplete.
It is the same with spiritual exercise. Daily praying and connecting to G-d is a spiritual workout. Missing prayer makes us feel incomplete on a deeper level. Exercise benefits our physical self like praying benefits our spiritual one.
Sometimes our physical and spiritual selves seem at odds. Our body says, "Let me sleep an extra hour, " while the soul knows it’s time to get moving. However, when the inner and outer selves are in synch, we feel elated. We feel something wonderful "in our bones." That is when we are at our best.
In Parsha Ekev, Moses instructs the Jewish nation how to achieve their fullest potential. He tells them to pray and elevate themselves from the distractions around them. Moses’s constant reminders of G-d’s miracles, like the manna which provided sustenance, clothes that never wore out and feet that did not swell while wandering for forty years, serves to connect the needs of the body with the needs of the soul. This illustrates that G-d cared equally for the people’s physical and spiritual needs.
It is significant that the Blessing After Meals comes from this week’s Torah portion. And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless G-d. We acknowledge G-d’s kindness and goodness in providing for our physical needs. In so doing, we nurture our own spiritual health. Similarly, the Shema prayer encourages us to love your
G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. In other words, to pray with kavanah, with concentration. The spiritual exercise of reciting the Shema at bedtime has therapeutic physical benefits as well, as it relaxes the body, facilitating a good night’s sleep.
Just as a healthy diet clears the way from our veins to our heart, "unclogged" communication with G-d, expands the soul to absorb His blessings. Prayer provides the most effective means of communicating with the Almighty.
Olympic champions do not rely solely on physical ability. The ordinary athlete becomes a winner when the mind, body and soul work together. A runner is said to be "in the zone" when everything works together like a well-oiled machine. Similarly we have the ability through praying mindfully, to enter a state of total awareness and connection with G-d.
The power of prayer should not be underestimated. Studies show that people who pray often heal better. In his book G-d, Faith, and Health, social epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Levin brings compelling evidence that spiritual practice fosters healthy behaviors, a positive self-image and a sense of purpose. He concludes that prayer and belief in a higher power promotes good health.
To achieve true wellness, we must combine spiritual exercise (prayer) with physical exercise. Torah commands us to guard our health. We are responsible for maintaining our bodies by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. In the twelfth century Maimonides wrote that a person should exercises and exert himself daily to ensure strength and well being. "One who is idle and does not exercise, even if he eats healthy foods, will be of ailment and his strength will diminish." Modern medicine agrees, recommending at least twenty minutes of daily exercise. Along with the physical benefits derived from daily exercise, the elevated endorphin levels are linked to positive moods and better self-esteem.
Just as G-d cared for our physical needs in the desert, we have the ability to improve our physical and spiritual fitness so that we will be in proper condition to improve the world around us. May G-d grant us the wisdom to use our abilities to bring health and harmony to ourselves and to the world. Shabbat Shalom.