Lesson From The Marathon I Almost Ran

Yesterday morning in synagogues all throughout the world, the story of the binding of Isaac was read aloud from the Torah scroll. In this famous story, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham seems ready to go through with it, and in the very last moment, an angel of God calls out to Abraham, telling him “don’t do it!”

This week, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, tens of thousands of runners, including me, were preparing to come to New York to run the New York City Marathon. Even after the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the race would go on. Having gone through months of training, I felt that my commitment to my marathon regimen was probably similar to Abraham’s zelous obedience to God. (Actually I probably was not quite as committed – as I did dabble in some junk food eating while Abraham didn’t dabble in idol worship.) Anyway, as the day got closer and the race was still going to happen as scheduled, I got a very strong feeling that I shouldn’t do the race. It simply didn’t feel right to run after all the devastation that had taken place. Amazingly thousands of runners had that same feeling and ultimately after immense pressure from politicians and citizens, the Marathon was cancelled.

I have no doubt that every runner had that question of “should I run?” go through their minds just as Abraham probably asked himself, “should I be doing this?” And I bet each and every runner wished that a voice would come down telling them what to do just as Abraham had an angel come tell him what to do.

In light of this marathon experience, I look at the binding of Isaac story in a new way. My new hero of the story is the angel. That angel is brave for speaking his mind to a man that is clearly torn about what to do. In today’s world, we don’t have angels telling us what to do, so I think what I’ve learned is we have to play the role of the angel. Sometimes we need to be the ones to say, “what you’re doing just doesn’t seem right.”

To be honest I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone else what they should do considering how torn I was. But I think that if people voice their own opinions and share with others what they plan to do in difficult situations, it certainly helps others in their process of deciding and I think that in this case it led to the right choice.

Once again, I am amazed at the parallels between the sports world and the things I’m studying in school.

Wishing much healing and recovery to all those affected by the storm.

-The Rabbi In Training

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Teach thy tongue to say ‘I do not know.’”

I have been really touched by some of the great responses to my previous two posts. I got three or four responses via email and facebook and each one was so deeply meaningful. I learned an important lesson through these posts. When you share your vulnerability, people are eager to help and people will share with you as well. What a profound lesson to pick up as I continue on my path towards becoming a rabbi. Thanks to all those who wrote to me- you know who you are!

I am also finding this idea of admitting vulnerability and limitations in my studies this year. Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish thinker who will be at the core of my studies famously said: “Teach thy tongue to say ‘I do not know’ and thou shalt progress.” So much of the philosophy I am studying this year is based on this principle. The Jewish theologians of the Medieval period seem to focus on what we can know and they admit that what we can know is such a small percentage of what is out there. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this as the year goes on and as I learn more.

But for now, I think the takeaway is that we should not let our limitations get in the way of our striving to achieve more. Too often we are scared to do things because we are afraid we might fail and because we are afraid that our limitations will be exposed.

This factor that scares us so much seems to be exactly the thing that empowered the Medieval Jewish philosophers and I think that it should empower us as well. Thinkers like Maimonides seemed to be intrigued that we can’t know everything, and knowing our limitations was just the first step to knowing more. Maimonides gladly writes about what we can’t know and because of that he is inspired to know and learn as much as he can despite his limitations.

We can be empowered by the fact that we are all vulnerable and all in need of help in one way or another. So my thought for this week is that we should all reach out and ask a question of someone else. Perhaps that question will be “how can I run my first 5k?” Or perhaps that question will be, “how can I create a more healthy diet?” Whatever your question may be, I think that at the very least it will make us realize that we can always learn something new and in doing so, perhaps we can even surpass some of our perceived limitations.

As for me, I’ve been asking a bunch of people about preparing to do a full Ironman. I still have my sights set on the New York City marathon, but the first step to progressing is to say “I do not know.” And as of now, I certainly don’t know what it would take to complete a full Ironman. It may be a few years until I conquer this feat, but for now I will enjoy the process of learning about it.

I hope that you are making progress towards your goals as well.

Happy and healthy training.

-The Rabbi In Training

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Fitness and Spirituality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Back to The Beginning

This post comes uncharacterstically soon after my previous one for two reasons. 1. Last time I spoke about some sadness and I am a big believer that we can’t sit in sadness for too long. 2. My last post prompted two profound responses from two great people and their wonderful thoughts inspired this posting.

In a little under 1 month, I will run the New York City Marathon and I’ve been training hard. Next week I will run my longest run – 20 miles – for the second time in my training program, and after that I will begin to taper off until race day on November 4th. The journey towards race day has been rewarding and I can’t wait for all of it to pay off on race day. But while crossing that finish line will be incredibly rewarding, I can’t afford to revel in that moment forever. I’ll enjoy the day. I’ll celebrate with friends and family, and hopefully I’ll celebrate a new personal record. But regardless of how that day goes, the essential point I’ll learn this Tuesday is that what really matters is what I do after the race.

A whole lot can happen in a marathon between the beginning and the end, and the best I can do is train as hard as I can. But ultimately, there’s a whole lot that I can’t control. What I know I CAN control is what happens after the marathon. How will I approach my recovery? How much time will I take off from training? When will I start planning my next journey? Regardless of what I do, I know that if I take the lessons I learn from race day on November 4th and apply them to my future goals, I’ve won. I’ve made the most of my experience.

When I read about Moses being denied access into the promised land, I’ll take a moment to acknowledge that hurt. And I know that I’ll revisit that hurt again the next time that we arrive at the end of the Torah. But how will we approach the journey from now until then? What will we make of this new start? How will we make the most of this new beginning?

So the next time we finish our long runs or our hard workouts or our yoga classes, how will we approach our new beginnings? Will we reward ourselves with a milkshake and candy or will we schedule our next fitness endeavor? We can’t always control how things turn out but when we have the chance to shape our beginnings all over again, I hope we all choose a beginning that will take us places we want to go.

V’samachta B’chagecha – “And you shall be happy in your holidays”

Wishing you happy and healthy training

-The Rabbi In Training

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Fitness and Spirituality, Holidays | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

It’s Simchat Torah and I’m Balding

Next week, Jews around the world will celebrate Simchat Torah, the day on which we both finish reading from the Torah and start all over again. At the very end, Moses dies overlooking the promised land. He is not allowed in with the people he had helped liberate from bondage and the people whom he led for 40 years in the desert. The scene is profound, it is intriguing, and it can even be a bit disturbing. After all, it’s a little unfair that after all that hard work, Moses doesn’t get to go into the promised land.

On Simachat Torah, it is our tradition to read the end and continue right back to the very beginning – the story of creation. Many say it is the ultimate example that Judaism values the journey over the end results. We spend all year reading our Torah, reading about the journey to the land that was promised to us, and then we go back to the beginning without ever reaching the goal.

I’ve found that in my life, I’ve really adopted this approach. Growing up, I wanted to be a major league baseball player. And when the time finally came when I had to give up that dream, after trying to acheive it for so long, I immediately thought about the journey. I realized that even though I didn’t acheive my ultimate goal, I gained so much from my experiences. Similarly, when I started losing my hair, I thought to myself, “Well, it was a good run with a full head of hair, but there is more to life than a full head of hair.” And since then I have made an effort to be more grateful that I have my health, my family, and other things that matter to me more than a full head of hair.

If your default is to concentrate on the bad, then this method can be extremely helpful. It can open your eyes to the good when you might be focused on something bad or unfavorable has happened. But interestingly, my default is to focus on the good. My default is to find the hapinness in bitter situations. But it occured to me recently that by doing this consistently, perhaps I am missing a valuable part of life. I’ve realized that sometimes it is ok, and in fact inmportant, to reflect on loss no matter how small or great that loss may be. This year, on Simchat Torah, I’m going to take a quick moment when we finish the last portion of our Torah and really feel the sadness of Moses being left on the other side of the Jordan river. I’m going to think about how there are people my age playing in the Major Leagues, and I’m not one of them. And I’m going to look around the room and find some guy with a full head of hair and say, “those were the days, when shampoo was still necessary.”

Before I jump back to the beginning, before I find the words in the Torah that say “And it was good,” I’m going to take a moment to experience the uncomfortable aspects of life. Because while I think it’s great to move on and be happy, which is something that Simchat Torah encourages, I have a feeling that the happiness will be enhanced if I take just a moment to remember that not all moments in life are moments full of joy.

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Holidays | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“How Good It Is When Brothers and Sisters Sit Together”

הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד

“How good and pleasant it is, when brothers and sisters sit together.”

On Yom Kippur I had the pleasure of leading a discussion group about “Physical and Spiritual Wellbeing.” I collected some of my favorite sayings and quotations – many of which I found from previous posts on this blog. I wrote down some topics for discussion and I had other notes scribbled to myself. And I wound up using almost none of it.

We began our discussion by introducing ourselves and then I asked one question. “Where do you find the spiritual and the physical meeting in your life?” Amazingly, our conversation took off from there. People offered pearls of wisdom that I could not have possibly found if I had done 10 weeks of research on the topic. Along with the wisdom, people were brave enough to share things that they would like to work on. Those that shared were answered with compassion and undersatnding from other members of our group. We were all strangers and yet by the end we were all connected. We had found common ground. In our own way, all of us had physical and spiritual practices that were very meaningful to us. And when people shared their passion, we all had a sense that opening our ears to the stories and advice of others would help us do what we love to do in a better, more dedicated, way.

The next thing I knew, our discussion had been going on for over an hour, and it was time to wrap up and head back into the afternoon and evening services.

I plan to run 10 miles tomorrow and 20 on Sunday. And when I do my training, I’ll be carrying everyone from our discussion that day with me. I’ll run thinking of the inspiring stories I heard and I’ll run thinking about all the supportive comments that were offered to those trying to make changes in their lives. And just as I will carry everyone with me this weekend, I believe many of the people there will be carrying others from that group wherever they decide to go this weekend. Perhaps they will think of our discussion group in a yoga class, on a nature hike, or at the gym. I believe that many of us sitting there that day will take what we discussed and use it to fuel both our spiritual and physical practices.

So how will you find the energy to stay dedicated to your physical routines this year? Try sitting with a friend and discussing what you’d like to accomplish. Even if your friend doesn’t work out with you, they’ll be there every time you dedicate yourself to achieving whatever it is that you would like to acheive.

Wishing everyone happy and healthy training.

-The Rabbi In Training

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Fitness and Spirituality, Holidays | Leave a comment

Drivers, Start Your Engines

While reflecting on all the work and preparation that goes into the high holiday season, I mentioned to friends that it’s like having the Super Bowl at the very beginning of the season. To my surprise, my friends Danny Asip and Lenny Wiener, both responded in the same way on separate occasions. “It’s kind of like NASCAR. They begin each year with the Daytona 500 – their biggest race of the year.” (Danny, I think you have been mentioned most on this blog out of anyone else. Lenny, get to work you’re not far behind)

Nascar and Judaism have something in common. Who knew?

Most baseball fans will admit that success in April has nothing to do with success in October. The same thing is true in many sports. But NASCAR, and the Jewish model, are different. What you do at the beginning of the season DOES matter. It is your time to enact change. It is your time to reflect on what you have done and right the course for your new year. As Jewish tradition explains, once Yom Kippur is over, the heavenly gates are closed. What happens after Yom Kippur somehow does not have the same impact as what happens in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

While this frontloaded model adds more stress on rabbinical students heading to our respective internships, I think it’s actually a great model. Why? No one explains it better than Usain Bolt, the Jamaican Olympic Gold Medalist and currently the fastest man in the world. He’s talking about sprinting, but I think it can be applied anywhere.

“To sprint fast you need to relax. In the 100 meter, once you come out of the drive phase, there’s nothing you can do to accelerate. The last 40 to 50 meters is all about flowing, and there’s a real art to that. Ther worst thing you can do is start to strain. You’ll tighten up and slow down.”

The high holidays is Judaism’s “drive phase.” Once we get set in our routines, it’s difficult to change. So do the work in these starting blocks of the high holidays. If we can put in the extra work now, hopefully we can maintain our speed throughout the year by flowing instead of straining.

Whatever your goals are for the Jewish year of 5773, I hope that you get off to a big start and let your hard work carry you through a very happy and healthy year.

Shanah Tovah. Happy New Year.

-The Rabbi In Training

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Holidays | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

On Freedom

Tomorrow night Jews around the world will gather at tables with family and friends to tell our sacred story of the exodus from Egypt. This story reminds us that we must appreciate our freedoms and that we must seek to end slavery of all kinds because although we are free now, we hold close to our hearts the idea that we were once slaves in Egypt.

The story of the Exodus tells us that the Jews were freed from slavery under Pharaoh but once the Jews made it across the sea and into the desert, they were not a people without a ruler. Rather, they were under new management. They got a new set of rules: the 10 commandments, and many more. Even Pharaoh knew that he was not sending the Jews off into the wilderness without a leader, but rather to be ruled by a different kind of ruler. “He [Pharaoh] summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said ‘Up, depart from among my pepole, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Lord as you said!’” (Exodus 12:31)

The Israelites were freed from a taskmaster only to be given 613 commandments by God at Mount Sinai. Is that truly freedom? My answer is “yes.” That is freedom. And I think it has a lesson that we can apply in all areas of our lives.

Freedom does not mean a freedom from responsibility. Freedom does not mean that we get to sit around and do nothing. Freedom means we get to be our own taskmaster. We get to give ourselves orders and work towards being the people that we want to be. I felt like a slave to myself when I got out of bed at 5:15 this morning to go to my spin class at the gym. I felt like a slave when I was outlining a chapter on Jews in Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries at 1am. But Passover reminds me that while I may feel like a slave, I am free because I am working my hardest towards things that I choose to do. I am lucky to be chasing down the goal of a half ironman and I am lucky to be pursuing the title of “Rabbi.” When I accomplish these goals, that feeling will be a greater taste of freedom than I could ever get by hanging out on a beach somewhere.

So what will be your taste of freedom? What will be your moment of accomplishment? Our story tells us that God called Moses and called the Israelites out of slavery into freedom. Whatever God means to you, what is that God calling you to do? You might need to be your own taskmaster in order to get there. But it will be worth it.

Nothing sums up my point better than this poem below by William Earnest Henley. I first discovered this while watching the movie Invictus with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. It’s a great one. Have a wonderful Passover if you are celebrating and a wonderful Easter if you are celebrating. May we enjoy our freedom to pursue what we want to pursue!

Invictus
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Holidays | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

We Are Back!

It has been a while since my last post and honestly it all happened without any conscious decision not to post. I simply didn’t have the time one week. And one week led to two. And two led to three, And three led to four and five.

I could say that I have some good excuses as to why I haven’t blogged. I have a full plate of courses at school. I’m training for my first Ironman 70.3 race in June and I have plenty to do to prepare for all of my jobs.

But excuses are like armpits – we all have them and they stink. I’m just happy that I found the time to type this up and share this with you. Perhaps what happened to me sounds familiar to you. Perhaps you haven’t been to the gym in two days, a week, a month, a year. Everyone has reasons. Some reasons are great, others aren’t so great, but if you want to do something and you haven’t for a while, go ahead and do it. Maybe today won’t be that day for you. Maybe it won’t be tomorrow. But it might just be the next day.

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tim Tebow and The Many Names of God

Today I saw clips of Tim Tebow on ESPN from his game against the Chicago Bears. As I was watching they showed him singing about God and praying – actions which have made him quite famous these days. Tim Tebow definitely wears his religion on his sleeve and so at this crossroads of sports and religion that is Tim Tebow, I figured I should weigh in.

Many people are turned off by Tebow’s public display of religion but it doesn’t bother me. People have asked me if I think his prayers work. My answer is “yes.” Do I think that God is in Heaven drinking a beer every Sunday in a Broncos jersey making sure Tebow succeeds? No, I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean that Tebow’s prayers don’t work. As I watched Tebow singing and praying on the sidelines of the field, I noticed his arms and his posture. He looked calm and relaxed and his arms were loose. Tim Tebow looked ready to play.

The Hebrew Bible and the Talmud use many names to refer to God – too many to list here. But just to name a few, God is referred to as “El” “YHWH” “Elohim” “Shaddai” “Rock of Israel (Tzur Yisrael)” and much more. So what does this have to do with Tebow? Just as God has many names, so does readiness. Each week before their games, hundreds of the best athletes in the world suit up and “get ready” to play football in the NFL. Each one of them does it differently. Some pray, some listen to music, some meditate, some have supersticious rituals, and I’m sure, just like the names of God in the Bible, there are too many pre-game superstitions to name them all. Tebow exhibits quite publicly one of these ways to get ready to play.

While I’ve never had a cup of coffee with Tim Tebow, I am willing to bet that our theologies are almost nothing alike. But I applaud Tim Tebow for what he is doing. He uses his religion as a way to prepare him to play ball and I’d imagine his religion inspires him to live a healthy lifestyle. It certainly is not the only way to get ready on gameday but as Tebow is showing his critics, it is certainly a very effective way.

What’s your pre-game ritual? Do you have something that inspires you in your life as much as Tim Tebow’s religion seems to inspire him? Regardless of whether your inspiration is religious or not, I hope you have something to inspire you to stay healthy and exercise.

To inspiration in all forms!

-The Rabbi In Training

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Fitness and Spirituality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fame… All Part of the Territory :)

Very excited to post this video of me teaching about lighting the Chanukah candles. It was quite an honor to be asked to do this. I hope you enjoy watching and this will definitely be a great memory for me when I look back at this one day!

RitualWell How To Light The Chanukah Candles

  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Holidays, Videos | Tagged , , | Leave a comment