I recently had the sad task of participating in the funeral of the 36-year-old son of dear friends from out of town who died suddenly and without warning – leaving behind a new bride and a devastated community. This young man had his entire life ahead of him. He had a promising future and was set to embark on a new career path. Seeing the grief and pain that was etched into the faces of all who knew and loved him as his body was lowered into his grave brought the fragility of life sharply into focus.
A tragedy such as this reminds us that we are physical beings. Each day we are gifted on earth is precious. Each moment we are blessed with the ability to experience the joys and hardships of daily living is sacred. One of the Hebrew words for soul is neshamah. Interestingly, neshamah also can be translated as “breath.” Jewish tradition teaches that our spiritual and physical selves are intrinsically linked. Each breath we take is both an affirmation and an opportunity to witness the miracle of life itself. As such, it is incumbent upon us to care for our bodies as an act of spiritual practice.
During this last week of Elul, I want us to focus on our physical selves. Again, this is by no means a complete list. Some questions are repeated from previous years. Hopefully they will provide you with a starting point for examining and improving your lives: As such – I offer the following questions:
- Have I taken care of my body through diet and exercise?
- Have I prepared medical directives that are clear and unambiguous stating my desires for illness and end-of-life issues?
- Have I done all that I could to comfort those around me who are affected by illness – have I performed the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim – visiting the sick?
- How much stress am I experiencing? Is it affecting the way I live my life?
- What bad habits have I cultivated that I need to change?
- Have I been avoiding going to the doctor, dentist or other health care professionals due to fear of what I might discover?
- Have I been supportive of efforts to provide health care to those who cannot afford it in my community?
As we enter into this last week of Elul, 5778, I hope and pray that the coming High Holy Days will be filled with meaning and beauty for you. Sue, Elana, Ethan and I truly feel blessed to be part of this sacred community. Again, I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use. If answering them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbis Hyatt and Baskin, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity. These materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. They also will be posted on my blog and linked to both the Temple website and Facebook page. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation - please contact the Temple office and we will be happy to send them out.
L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – may you have a good and sweet new year,
Rabbi Joseph R. Black