Today's Beams might save you from adding two inches to your waistline this Succot. None of us want to go the route of gaining needless weight, so let's do a little pre-holiday preparation with this food for thought:
The perenniel post-holiday problem of many Jewish people is the added calories, pounds, flab, and cholesterol of a week of eating and rejoicing in the Succa. As the Beams is committed to the health of body, mind, and soul, we've composed a few guidelines to combat the expanding Succoth waistline.
Beware of the cakes: Many people want to make a blessing on the Succa every time they enter it. But, one really shouldn't make a blessing unless he eats something. For that reason, many folks eat cake ("mezonos", at a minimum amount of a little over and ounce) so they can say the "Leshev B'Succa" blessing, the blessing to sit in the Succa. If a person eats 2 ounces of cake 3 times a day, that adds another 840 calories to his daily intake. The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a says that one should make a "Leshev B'Succa" blessing only when eating a proper meal that includes washing your hands and breaking bread. So, don't eat cake for the purpose of making a blessing to sit in the Succa. If a person eats 3 average-sized portions of cake a day for the 9 (outside of Israel, 8 in Israel) days of the Succoth/Simchat Torah holiday, he'll gain more than two pounds. We suggest eating sliced fresh carrots or sliced green apples instead of the cake.
Beware of the liquor: Many people make a "Lechayim" every time they visit the Succa of a friend and relative. In Israel, quite a few people that barely touch alcoholic beverages all year long keep them on hand to serve guests, and end up toasting glass-per-glass with the guest. A one-ounce shot of vodka or 86-proof Whiskey is 70 calories, while an ounce of a 72-proof liqueur such as Kahlua or Banana Liqueur is a hefty 117 calories. 3 "Lechayims" a day is enough to pick up another half pound during the week of the holiday. Adding that to the cakes (see above), you've already gained 2.5 pounds during Succoth. Putting the weight on is so much easier than taking it off.
Beware of sweet beverages: Succoth is a time when parents allow the Pepsi and the Coke to flow frely all week long. Now hear this - an 8-ounce glass of Coke Classic is a whopping 97 calories, just as caloric as the equivalent amount of beer or of a slice and a half of bread. A person that drinks 6 glasses of cola a day will gain almost a pound on Succoth, please wreck his teeth in the process. We suggest that you reach for the mineral water, sparkling water, or herb tea instead, for they have zero caloric value.
Beware of snacks: People like to munch in the Succa. We all know that you can't eat one Frito or potato chip - therefore, those plastic bags empty fast. One ounce of fritos, potato chips, or our Bamba and Bisli add another 160 calories to your calorie-aglore score. If a person drinks two glasses of cola and consumes two ounces of snack foods a day, he'll gain over a pound during Succoth. Again, fresh carrot and cucumber sticks are a virtually non-cloric and healthy replacement for the junky snack foods.
So, with the cakes, the l'chayims, the cokes and the snacks alone - without the heavy meals that include kugel and fat meats, you've already gained close to 5 pounds. And, if you drink diet beverages and use artificial sweeteners, you might not gain the weight but you'll be likely to suffer from headaches and anxiety.
True, tradition is important; that is, as long as it doesn't ruin your health. Here at the Brody homestead, whole-grained rice, buckwheat groats and quinoa have replaced fried farfel and oil-dripping kugel. We don't fry, but boil and bake. We eat loads of veggies and fresh fruit, and drink local mineral water. Fish and lean poultry have replaced the beef and veal. Dessert is homemade applesauce, fresh cantelope cubes, or an almond-stuffed fresh date. Our bread is home-baked and whole-grain. We want to control what enters our bodies; the manufacturers care about making money, not about our health. That's why we don't buy their products. Our bodies weren't designed to digest the myriad of chemical additives and preservatives that they force-feed us.
The Rambam gives an important reminder - don't eat until you're full. The stomach resembles a washing machine - if you overload it, it can't do the laundry. By the same token, an overloaded stomach can't digest, resulting in indigestion, another common Succoth ailment.
A great way to combat the the expanding Succoth waistline is to walk for an hour a day. Better yet, while you're walking, talk to Hashem in personal prayer. That way, your body gets its exercise and your soul gets its nourishment, that is none other than connecting with Hashem. What could be better? Breslev Israel and the Beams wish you a happy and healthy Succoth with no indigestion and no expanding waistline, amen.
Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean suffering. There’s quite a bit we can do to alleviate the bodily and mental stress that normally accompanies a fast. The day before the fast, follow the following guidelines:
1. Cut down your caffeine intake to minimize headaches. That means stop drinking coffee, tea, and cola at least eight hours before the fast, and preferably twenty-four hours before the fast.
2. Avoid salty, spicey, and fried foods on the day before the fast.
3. Avoid white sugar, white flour, and white rice. Eat whole-grained foods such as brown rice and whole-wheat bread or challa.
4. Drink a lot of water all day long.
5. Eat a good breakfast that includes fruits, veggies, eggs or sardines, and whole grains.
6. The pre-Yom Kippur meal (se'uda mafseket) should include baked or broiled fish, a veggy salad, consomme, a small portion of chicken or turkey, and a side dish of complex carbohydrates. Substitute sweet deserts with watermelon or other water-retaining fresh fruit, and a cup of herb tea with a whole-grain cookie.
On Yom Kippur:
7. The more you immerse yourself in prayer, the less you'll think about food.
8. Rest between prayers. Don’t run around outside, especially in the hot sun. Save your voice for prayers. Idle talking will make you thirstier, and will detract from the holiness of the day.
After the fast:
9. Drink two glasses of water, and then eat solids gradually, so as not to shock the digestive system. Begin with fruit, like plums or grapes. The worst thing people do is to consume pastries and soft drinks, or “lekach un bronfan” (cake and liquor) right after the fast (these are unhealthy anytime, all the more so right after the fast when they give your body a shock of glucose).
10. Forty-five minutes to an hour afterwards, one can eat a balanced meal with protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables. After eating, relax for an hour with your favorite book (preferably Gemara of the laws of Succoth from Shulchan Oruch) and your favorite beverage, then begin constructing your Succa.
Attention diabetics, heart patients, folks with high blood pressure, and people whose health depends on regular medication - you must be especially careful to ask your doctor if you are capable of fasting, and then consult with your local rabbi, giving him the doctor's exact opinion. For many such people, it is a mitzva not to fast on Yom Kippur.
The Israel Cancer Association recommends that cancer patients not fast without approval from their physicians. Fasting could cause considerable discomfort in cancer patients, who need a lot of liquids to alleviate side effects of chemotherapy. Again, first consult the doctor and then the rabbi. Give the rabbi all the details that you received from the doctor.
This past Tisha B'Av, I policed my synagogue looking for sick people who were fasting without authorization. It's no mitzva to get yourself rushed in an ambulance to the emergency ward because you were fasting without authorization.
Don't let children (boys under the age of 12 or girls under the age of 11) be overzealous. Make sure they eat on time.
With G-d's blessing and the above guidelines, you'll have an easy fast. May all of us be signed and sealed in the Book of Long and Happy Lives, amen.
Josh Collmenter, above, is not a Breslever Chassid; he's a Major-League pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks - image courtesy of mlb.com
The Torah tells us not to shave our beard. According to most rabbinical authorities, this applies only to shaving with a razor. Yet, we Chassidim take the stringent view and don't touch our beards at all.
Recent Australian research shows that beards not only prevent skin cancer, but delay aging. See for yourself.
At any rate, anyone who stops shaving with a razor is bound to see a big blessing.
Our daily liturgy contains a special prayer for health and healing that we say three times a day in the Shmona Esrei prayer. This particular blessing is named after its initial word Refa'enu, which means "heal us". The following is a translation of the blessing:
Heal us, Hashem, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved, for You are our glory, and send a complete cure for all of our ills, [here you can insert all your private health requests, both for yourself and for others] for You are our Lord King faithful and merciful physician. Blessed are you, Hashem, physician of His people Israel's afflicted.
Rav Eliezer Burland shlit'a laughs cynically when he sees people racing through their prayers to go stand in line in some clinic or outpatient center waiting to see a doctor who is neither faithful, merciful, nor capable of curing. Rav Burland says, "If you spend two minutes saying 'Refa'enu' with intent and composure, then you'll save hours standing in line in Kupat Holim (public clinics - LB) and in doctor's offices."
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches that a person's main efforts in overcoming an affliction should focus on prayer. Refa'enu is not only a blessing for the sick; it's a blessing for the healthy that want to stay that way. The next time you pray, say Refa'enu slowly, word by word, with composure and concerted intent.
Don't ever forget that the keys of life and death are in Hashem's hands only. Since Hashem is the physician of all flesh and Hashem cures sicknesses, one is much better advised to turn to Hashem rather than turning to anyone else. Do so while you're still healthy...
But even if you're not well, remember that prayer achieves anything. Refa'enu in itself is enough to keep us healthy. If we really had emuna, we'd turn to Hashem and to Hashem only in earnest prayer, saying each word deliberately and with deep intent. Isn't your health worth an extra 2 minutes of prayer three times a day?
Some people ask why we close the above blessing with, "Blessed are you, Hashem, physician of His people Israel's afflicted." Is Hashem only the physician of Israel's afflicted? What about the other nations? Rav Shalom Arush shlit'a answered this probing question and explained that since Israel relies on prayer and emuna, then Hashem personally cures them in a supernatural manner, for if Israel relies on the supernatural (prayer and emuna), Hashem gives them back measure for measure and cures them miraculously beyond the limits of nature. But, as the other nations (and many Jews, unfortunately) rely on natural means with little or no belief in the supernatural powers of prayer and emuna, Hashem lets them fall into the hands of the doctors and "natural" cures.
By virtue of prayer and emuna, Hashem becomes one's personal physician. Isn't that worth reinforcing our emuna and our praying? You bet it is!
Sharon from LA asks: Granted that Hashem is the physician of all flesh, but why does he make people sick?
Great question! You'll find the answer in Chapter Three of "The Garden of Emuna".
Before I left Israel on the current speaking tour, I delivered a pep-talk to a group of police officers. When I arrived at the headquarters building, my host - an extremely cordial veteran detective with literally no religious background - greeted me and asked me if I needed anything before I begin my talk. I asked him to show me where the bathroom was.
After the bathroom, I washed my hands three times consecutively with a cup and said slowly with intent the "Asher Yatzar" blessing that one says after visiting the toilet. My host looked at me wide-eyed, as if I'd suddenly sprouted peacock feathers. "Rabbi," he gasped, "you guys even make a blessing after relieving yourselves?"
I smiled and nodded in the affirmative, and asked the detective if he'd ever had constipation or diarrhea. He grimaced and said yes, telling me a story of how his whole platoon in the army once contracted salmonella food poisoning during a training maneuver rendering him utterly out of capacity for a week with his intestines totally askew.
"What would you have given to have normal bowel movements back then, instead of the Intifada in your guts?" I asked.
"A million bucks!" the detective answered.
"You're right," I responded. "I don't have a million bucks, so I bless Hashem and thank Him every time my personal plumbing does its job!"
Our sages teach us that by saying Asher Yatzar blessing after visiting the toilet, one is assured of good health. Earlier today, Rav Shalom Arush shlit'a explained to me why: We praise Hashem at the end of the blessing and call Him, "The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously." Everytime we relieve ourselves, Hashem does a myriad of miracles in maintaining the body's health, casting away dangerous bacteria, microorganisms, and dead body cells in the bodily waste. Even more wondrous is that this heavy maintenance is done in a way that's extremely gratifying to the body.
Taking a few moments to say Asher Yatzar after visiting the toilet is liable to save you hours in down-time, sick-time, doctor visits, and even hospital visits. You'll also save a mint on medical expenses. Better than anything, you'll obtain what no health insurance plan can offer - a guarantee of good health.
As a service to Beams readers that don't yet say the Asher Yatzar blessing on a regular basis, here is the text in English translation and in English transliteration. There's no time to start like the present.
Blessed are You, HaShem, Our God, King of the universe, Who created the human with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities, exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are You, HaShem, The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously.
A Jew starts his morning by saying "Modeh Ani", thanking Hashem for returning his soul and giving him a new day. We say this as soon as we open our eyes, before we even get out of bed...
Yehudit Levy writes:
My brother in law was speaking to a doctor friend of his who had just returned from a medical conference. He told him that they had learned the best way to overcome morning dizziness and low blood pressure was to sit up on the edge of the bed immediately upon waking, legs down, for at least 12 seconds. The doctor was absolutely amazed by this medical fact since he then realized there are exactly 12 words in Modeh Ani....