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Parshas Re'eh - Getting Back Into Shape          28 Av 5782

08/24/2022 07:37:23 PM


There are seasons and pre-seasons; spring training and fall training. This past summer I participated in a pick-up baseball game with our mid-summer ruach boys who came to learn/teach in and out of the Beis Medrash. As many of my readers know, I love the game of baseball - love watching and even love playing. It has been a few years since I actually attempted to even be in a scrimmage kind of game, but when I do play, I approach it with the seriousness of a game seven of the fall classic. (I do not want to bore you with ALL the details because I know some people think baseball is a BOOOORING sport). I began throwing and swinging as if it were mid-season; unfortunately, I am just a little out of shape and many of the muscles necessary for those motions have been dormant for a long time. Now, about six weeks into this focused workout, I wonder why my left knee greets me with a nagging, lingering pain every morning when I wake up. Apparently, when I bat from the right side, a substantial amount of pressure collapses on the front leg as it comes down through the swing. I guess the good news is that had I swung from both sides of the plate, my other knee would be hurting too.

It is an understatement to stress the importance and need of spring training.  It is critical and crucial for the health and well-being of the athlete, who, in turn, can either add to or detract from the team as a whole. Muscles and joints that are rarely used cannot be simply turned on and expected to go full force. It is interesting to note that when we pull a muscle, stretch a ligament, or do any other strenuous activity, the body immediately recognizes something is wrong, diagnosing where the issue is coming from, and shutting down that part of the body by way of a strain or a pull in order to prevent further harm or damage.  One tends to disconnect the effect the brain has with regard to the rest of the body. The mind seems to think it can do something without first consulting the body to see if it can handle the sudden surge of energy and pressure exerted on any single part of the body. If we would just first think about this cause and effect, we’d be able to  prepare appropriately, based upon our physical ability and our mental acuity.  If one thinks first, then the resulting actions turn out to be a blessing, but if there are no forethoughts, the physical actions could be a curse. This concept is indicated in the first passuk of this week’s reading.

In this week’s Parshas Re’eh the Torah states in Devarim 11:26 "ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה"  “You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse”. This verse has a wide audience, connecting to everything we do in life, even how we treat our bodies and, of course, our souls. On another point regarding increasing the “load” is that one should be careful not to just add on or neglect from the daily routine, a point identified in the Parsha as well. In Devarim 13:1 the Torah states: "את כל הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם אותו תשמרו לעשות, לא תסף עליו ולא תגרע ממנו"  “It is enough that you carefully observe everything that I am prescribing to you. Do not add to it and do not subtract from it”. The Rabbis taught "כל המוסיף גורע"  ”Whoever adds is actually taking away.” The adding on must incorporate the related exercises and motions into the already existing routine in order to make it stronger and better. When it comes to Ruchni (spiritual), we do not necessarily need to take on more; rather we must strengthen that which we already have. This should be done slowly and steadily.

Furthermore, motions, actions, and activities that we feel within the physical realm must also be viewed in the spiritual realm. There are significant parallels between the physical and the spiritual in every facet of life. The key is to find them, using each of them to our benefit and not to our detriment. I have always maintained the position that when someone begins the journey towards becoming more observant, he/she needs to do so slowly. So many people start off in high gear, going a hundred miles per hour until wham! -  the bubble bursts or he/she just burns out. Training requires slow, focused growth, carefully building upon the effort and accomplishments of the previous day. This lesson is the entrée to the last month of the year, Chodesh Elul.

This coming Shabbos and Sunday is Rosh Chodesh, with Sunday being the first day of Elul, the day when we begin reciting L’Dovid Hashem Ori and blow the Shofar after davening. Elul is the training time to get back into spiritual shape. There are many different pathways and avenues of preparation, all helping us to get ready for the opening of the first day of the year: Rosh Hashana. There are many things we do throughout Elul including   shofar blowing, selichos, checking of our tefillin and mezuzos, reciting all of Tehillim twice during the month, and focusing on ever-deepening, genuine introspection. Some of the reasons people feel the High Holiday services are long and boring is because they have not mentally gotten into shape. Those who have earnestly participated in “fall training” will have a completely different experience coming to Shul. This ‘awakening’ requires more than just preparing to come to shul the same way we do throughout the year. It requires a little more. Beginning with Rosh Chodesh Elul, we need to put more time into training our souls and even our bodies. The sheer length of the holidays is two or three times as long as an ordinary Shabbos, but if we extend our attendance and participation during the training exercises, we will make the time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur more meaningful and impactful.

There is a general cost and risk when a person invests in something in order to experience true profit and gain. As the old saying goes, “no pain no gain”. So too, spiritually speaking, if we want to gain, we need to invest with some pain by showing up more frequently for longer periods of time. The amount we gain from deepening our learning, focusing more earnestly on our davening, doing more chessed, and in general performing Mitzvos with a mindset to improve, the more profoundly we will produce gains we could never had expected under the ordinary efforts put forth throughout the rest of the year. Let us all show up for the fall training so that we will be in the best physical and spiritual shape as we head into the new year with all the blessings and none of the curses.            

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784