When I was a little boy in inner-city Washington, DC, we lived in a small apartment on top of my father's grocery store on Independence Avenu SE, twelve blocks from the Capital. We had a really nice African-American mailman who used to deliver the mail to us every day. I don't remember his name, but he had a smile like Louie Armstrong. I loved to greet him and talk to him. He would pinch my then-chubby cheeks and say, "Child, I ain't gonna be totin' mail all my life. Someday, I'm gonna be rich. Maybe I'll buy the White House. Meantime, I keep on dreamin' and I keep on truckin'!"
I'll never forget those words of wisdom. You keep on dreaming and in the meanwhile, you keep on plugging away. Every major accomplishment began with taking the first step to fulfill a dream.
Modern fad diets resemble Israel's leftists - they both lead to surrendering strategic and vital areas.
A lot of the fad diets have penetrated the Observant Jewish world, which is infamous for unhealthy eating especially on Shabbat - after services Kiddush of liquor and pastry, followed by a meal of white Challa, potato and noodle kugels and cholent, with a desert of more cakes, roasted nuts and parve ice cream.
Sure, many "victims" of the fad diets have lost tons of weight. But they don't exercise. Their bodies therefore look like big empty burlap sacks draped on bone. At least when they were fat, their muscles had to work to carry the extra weight. But now, nothing. No muscle tone, just empty flab.
Modern society has become so focused on weight loss, that any weight loss seems to be good. It certainly is not. You look better and feel better when you increase your muscle-to-fat ratio. In other words, by exercising and increasing caloric intake - especially with quality protein and good HDL-producing fats - you gain weight big time without adding a millimeter to your waist or hips. In fact, your trousers or skirt fits better than ever.
The impressive initial weight loss of the "effortless" fad diets comes from losing the strategic and vital area of your body - your muscle mass. Therefore, the goal of dieting should be to improve body composition, the percentage or ratio of muscle to body fat, like we said. You do that by losing fat without losing muscle tissue. Maintaining and even increasing muscle mass is critical to weight control, because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. What's more, as you exercise and add resistance/strength training to your routine, you can actually look thinner and have a smaller waistline, but the scale shows that you gained weight! How can that be? Simple - muscles take up less space in your body, so body weight may stay the same or even go up as you add compact, tight muscle mass. In density, muscle is 22% more dense than fat. In other words, if you've been doing strength /resistance training, your waist is thinner, your skirt or trousers fit great, you look and feel great, but you weigh more! Maybe at 145 lbs, you could only do 20 pushups, but now at 155, you can do 50! Yes, you weigh more but you're much more healthy. Keep on liftin', bro and sis, and put the bathroom scale in the closet!
That's what I call "Body Politic". So, forget about your weight and just be strong and healthy. When you eat right - as natural as possible - and exercise, you'll burn fat and build muscle anyway. G-d willing, Racheli and I hope to post more body-health and fitness pointers in the near future. Meanwhile, stay healthy!
Stay tuned to the Beams for some future exciting posts on fitness, coming soon, G-d willing
Image above: the holy gravesite of Mattatyahu son of Yochanan, the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol), father and spiritual leader of the Maccabees
Mattatyahu Cohen HaGadol, whom we remember every time we say the "Al HaNissim" prayer during Chanuka, is buried in a cave in a forest, about a kilometer north of Highway 443 near Mevo Modiin.
Mattatyahu and his sons fought a double war - not only against the Syrian Greeks, but against the 95% of the Jewish people who had become assimilated Hellenists. But because of his steadfast, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to Hashem, to his emuna, to the Torah and to his homeland, he was able to overcome all obstacles and instill the fire of emuna and total dedication in the hearts of his brave sons and daughter.
Where did he get his strength and courage from?
Nothing gives a person strength like clarification of the truth. A person who knows the truth and who lives according to the truth is as fierce as a lion. He is not willing to live a lie; so, if you take the truth away from him, he'll no longer regard his life as worth living. That's why our ancestors in every generation all the way back to our forefather Abraham were willing to sacrifice their last breath and heartbeat for our faith in Hashem and our Torah.
Mattatyahu and his sons Yehuda, Elazar, Shimon, Yochanan and Yonatan knew the truth. For a servant of Hashem, life is worthless without Torah, emuna, and holiness. The Hellenists fooled themselves while trying to dilute the truth and appease the Syrian Greeks, but the latter wanted to destroy it altogether and to substitute it with a life of pursuing bodily amenities.
Did Hashem send our souls down to this lowly earth just for another piece of steak, another fling with the opposite sex, or another NBA game? Those who waste their lives in the pursuit of material appetites are neither happy nor fulfilled. What's worse, they haven't devoted a single minute to clarifying the truth.
21" biceps won't give you courage. Truth and emuna will.
If the Prime Minister of Israel would clarify the truth, no foreign pressure in the world would sway him a single millimeter. If a teenager would clarify the truth, then he'd say no to the stupid things that his peers are doing. If a woman knew the truth, she wouldn't care if her neighbors called her "nebby" or "yachna" for dressing the way Hashem wants her to dress. If a man would be honest with himself, he'd realize how contemptable it would be to sacrifice one's entire family for a few moments of illicit thrills.
Mattatyahu and his sons were masters at truth clarification. They weren't willing to live for two minutes without the truth. That's where they derived the courage to fight a virtually impossible war. And that's why they won.
While we're basking in the holy light of the Chanuka candles, let's ponder the real meaning of this beautiful festival that commemorates the miracle of the few prevailing over many, the pure prevailing over the impure, and the light prevailing over darkness. Let's remember the dedication and commitment of Mattatyahu and his sons. Let's strengthen ourselves and carry their torch of Torah and truth, no matter what the odds. We can do it. All we need is emuna. Happy Chanuka!
The Torah compares Judah to a lion and the lion's roar is an indication of its great strength.
Each of us has the gift of Judean strength, as we'll learn in today's emuna lesson.
Today's emuna shiur and broadcast, entitled, "The Strength of Judah" is a jump-start on the month of Elul, which begins this coming week. It will take place, G-d willing, in the ground-floor main sanctuary of the Chut Shel Chessed Yeshiva on 13 Shmuel Hanavi Street in Jerusalem at 7PM Israel time (12 noon EDT); the shiur is open to the public - both men and women are invited. You can see today's lesson here - the broadcast, as well as our lessons posted from now on - are Mac and iPod compatible. If you tune in too early to the live broadcast link, you'll be sent to the main page of the Breslev Israel website, so try to tune in on time. If you are not able to view today's broadcast live, then G-d willing, you'll be able to see the video tape of it later this coming week on Lazer Beams.
The Talmud offers practical homiletic advice on how to survive under extreme stress:
Rabbi Akiva sailed from Israel to Cyprus. Before he left port, he saw his prize understudy, Rabbi Meir, board an older vessel, also sailing to Cyprus. In the midst of their journey, a terrible gale struck the Mediterranean. Rabbi Akiva's heart broke as he gazed into the distance, wincing while the storm lashed into the decrepit craft that carried Rabbi Meir. In a matter of minutes, the latter's ship was utterly destroyed...
A tear slid down Rabbi Akiva's cheek. "What a waste of a brilliant mind!" he lamented.
Several days later, upon reaching the shores of Cyprus, Rabbi Akiva entered a local synagogue and house of study. Flabbergasted, he froze in the doorway. Rabbi Meir was in the middle of a lecture to a group of Cypriot Talmud students. Seeing his esteemed teacher and spiritual guide in the doorway, Rabbi Meir ceased lecturing. "Rabbi Akiva, my honored master, please come inside!"
Rabbi Akiva could barely speak. "M-Meir! Y-You're still alive! H-How did you get ashore?"
"Simple, my master. Instead of focusing on the stormy sea, I rode one wave at a time. I caught wave after wave until I reached the shore!"
* * * * *
Had Rabbi Meir attempted to battle the entire tempestuous sea, he would have expended his strength in a short time. Instead, he used the centuries old formula of "divide and conquer" - Rabbi Meir knew that he couldn't overcome the sea, but he could surely cope with one wave at a time. Even more amazing, he arrived ashore before Rabbi Akiva!
The 2nd-Century CE sage Rabbi Meir teaches us the secret of staying on top when we seem to be buried under an insurmountable load of stress. Don't fight a whole raging sea, or don't try to move a one-ton boulder that's in your way. Take a 5-lb. hammer, and break chips of the boulder. Before you know it, the boulder - that ton of stress on your shoulders - is no longer there!
The secret of handling an overload of stress is dismantling - don't try to deal with all your pressures simultaneously. Ride one wave at a time, and you'll make it safely to shore, too.
Don't forget also that the best way of dismantling is to take all the problems off your own shoulders and throw them onto Hashem's lap. You do that with an hour a day of personal prayer; that will really make you feel light on your feet!