Ki Teitzei - 5763
Going to War against Our Enemy before Rosh HaShanah
Losing Weight and Accomplishing Other Personal Goals
Rosh HaShanah is now very close, and we feel the
pressure to formulate resolutions for self-improvement. One resolution which
many of us make, and frequently find difficulty in fulfilling is the
resolution to lose weight. This resolution can probably be interpreted
spiritually as well as physically but, for simplicity, let’s keep the
One day this past week, I met a friend of long-standing, and remarked that
he seemed to have lost considerable weight. He said that it was true, and
being interested in the same goal for myself, I asked him his secret for
losing weight. He responded that all the diets “out there” worked, provided
the individual looking for results was committed to “focusing” on his or her
goal. When I asked him to elaborate, he said that he had found that if the
first thought a person had upon waking was “Today I am going to have a
positive day,” that was a wonderful starting point.
He also said that he had attended a lecture where the speaker had advised
the audience against negative judgments. He said that every negative
judgment produces a correspondingly negative physical reaction – increasing
the level of stress related to the “Fight or Flight” physiological response
that elevates blood pressure, and has other damaging effects upon the body.
The recommended response to experiencing a negative judgment was to take a
breath, and to “let go” of the negative thought. Since one frequently eats
for comfort, reducing the level of stress would presumably reduce the need
for comfort and hence the need for food. He had worked on remodeling his
life according to the above ideas, and it had helped him.
It occurred to me that the three notions he had mentioned corresponded to
ideas propounded by Chazal:
The idea that one should always remain in “focus” upon a positive goal
reminded me of the advice given by King David in Tehilim (16:8), “Shiviti
HaShem L’Negdi Tamid,” “I have set HaShem before me always.” It also aroused
a vivid memory of a session of my sixth-grade class at Yeshiva Rabbi Moshe
Soloveitchik in which the teacher presented this rule of life as the main
The idea of having a positive thought in mind immediately upon waking
corresponds with Chazal’s dictum to recite “Modeh Ani” at that time: “I
gratefully thank you, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my
soul within me with compassion – abundant is Your faithfulness.” The idea of
a faithful G-d Who returns one’s soul after watching over it and cleaning it
and refreshing it overnight, is indeed a positive thought.
And the idea of minimizing and attempting to avoid negative judgments seems
to fit nicely with our recital regarding our own soul, and about every
living soul created “B’Tzelem E-lohim,” “in the image of G-d” (the “E-lohai
Neshamah” Prayer, one of my personal favorite “tefilot”):
“My G-d, the soul you placed within me is pure. You created it, You
fashioned it, You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me, and
eventually You will take it from me, and restore it to me in a future time.
As long as the soul is within me, I gratefully thank You, HaShem, my G-d and
the G-d of my fathers, Sovereign of all deeds, Master of all souls. Blessed
are You, HaShem, Who restores souls to dead bodies.”
Not to be judgmental fits nicely with the adage of Hillel, cited in Pirkei
Avot 2:5, “Do not judge your neighbor until you stand in his place.”
Focusing on one’s own shortcomings is more helpful than on one’s neighbors’.
Back to dieting; one should recall that all physical appetites are creations
of G-d and, when suitably modulated by Halachah, are legitimate. The Nazir
must bring a Sin-Offering, in the opinion of Rabbi Elazar HaKapar (Nazir
19a), because he found the list of the Torah’s prohibitions too short and
felt that he had to add to it.
I remarked that during the second of my successful diets, I had used the
tactic of borrowing a candy-bar wrapper from a friend and sniffing it to
satisfy my yen for chocolate, because taste and smell are related. He
responded that a woman he knew had kept some ice cream in the freezer and
when the craving struck, would take a spoonful, let it melt slowly in her
mouth, and say, “There! I’ve had ice cream,” and restore the package to the
freezer. All’s fair in love and war!
Each of us has areas of life which could use improvement, “from the sublime
to the ridiculous.” By using the method of behavior modification briefly
described in this essay, or any other means of “Teshuvah,” may we all be
successful in implementing our resolutions, so that we may stand, as it
were, before HaShem on the Day of Judgment (slim and trim or “on the way”
physically and spiritually and) ready for a verdict, individually and
nationally, of “Geulah V’Yeshuah,” Redemption and Salvation.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU