Once again, I failed miserably in my effort to #BlogElul this year. At least I am consistent. Even so, I have taken these weeks to reflect on the past year (and more) and would like to take this opportunity to share a few of those reflection as we approach Erev Yom Kippur.
A little over a year and a half ago, I shared the words from Torah that resonate loudest with me – U’vacharta ba-chayim – “choose life.” Reform Jews will hear these words tomorrow when we read from Parashat Nitzavim during the morning service. I shared those words in the context of my decision to have, in my estimation, life-saving weight loss surgery.
This summer, I spent two weeks at URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy in beautiful Westtown, Pennsylvania. The over-arching theme for the summer was the familiar quote from Pirke Avot (the Ethics of Our Ancestors): “Im ein ani li, mi li? If I am not for myself, who will be for me? V’im ani l’atzmi, mah ani? But if I am only for myself, what am I? V’im lo achshav, eimatai? And if not now, when?” This quote has been forefront in my mind as I reflected over the past year and guided my spiritual preparation for these High Holy Days.
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Yes, my children had been after me for several years to lose weight, concerned for my overall health, and with good reason. After Missy was born, I struggled to lose my baby weight, but clearly, it wasn’t a priority for me. As a result, I allowed myself to balloon up to a high of 279 lbs. To his credit (and to my detriment), Maury always accepted and loved me unconditionally, never suggesting that I lose weight or that I was anything less than beautiful in his eyes. However, as a result of my weight, I was plagued with sleep apnea, osteo-arthritis, severe asthma, and a number of other ailments. Add to that a more recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, combined with having inherited bad genes on from both parents, I was digging myself an early grave.
Since my surgery, I have lost 144 lbs. and have not been healthier in many years. My sleep apnea is gone, my arthritis pain has subsided considerably, and my asthma has not bothered me but for one illness late this summer. I exercise at least 4-5 days per week, and I am finally at a healthy BMI for the first time in 28 years. It is a daily struggle, I’m not going to lie. The surgery is, at best, a tool. I will remain healthy only if I continue to make good decisions and sacrifices, giving up forever specific foods that will cause me to gain weight or act as triggers to binge. I know that if I eat one cookie, I will not stop there, so for me, it is an ‘all in’ mentality. Self-discipline is so very hard, but oh, so necessary. Thankfully, I have grown to love my almost-daily workouts and feel pretty meh when I miss one.
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” I know that I will have to “be for myself” for the rest of my life. I’m ready and willing to accept that responsibility, knowing that in doing so, I give my children the gift of a healthy and present mother, and, God willing (all in good time), grandmother to future grandchildren.
“But if I am only for myself, what am I?” I acknowledge with pain and reluctance that I have fallen short in this area, having been so focused on taking care of myself over the past year and a half. While I have tried to be a good and loving spouse, parent, friend, work partner, and educator, I could have done more. I have been impatient, snarky, selfish, and quick to judge others for the same traits I see in myself. I have not done enough to make the world a better place, and I plan to work to change that in the coming year. As I approach these final hours of reflection and atonement, I pray for the wisdom, strength, and fortitude to do the work of tikkun olam, repairing our fractured world.
“And if not now, when?” I am grateful to be feeling the urgency to address my shortcomings. This past Shabbat, at Kesher Chai – our children’s education program – we did a modern twist on Tashlich. We discussed how some of our transgressions are small while others are much bigger, like the rocks lining the walkway in the courtyard of our building. Each child chose a number of rocks of varying sizes that represented the ‘size’ of their wrongdoings and wrote them on the rocks with sidewalk chalk. We then put a number of their rocks in a bag and felt how heavy it becomes when we carry those wrongdoings around with us all year, and how by acknowledging our mistakes and striving to do better we can lighten our loads. (Hopefully, we will be blessed with rain before next Shabbat – for many reasons, but especially to wash away our wrongdoings.) While I hope that my load of commission is not so heavy, I know that my load of omission is quite heavy. I pray that next year at this time, I will be able to say I have done better.
“If not now, when?” There is a meme that I’ve seen many times over the past few days on Facebook that says, “While it’s important to act properly between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is perhaps more important to act properly between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.”
Dear God, help me to act properly every day, not only on these days of repentance when my transgressions are forefront in my mind. Help me to be cognizant of the pain and suffering around me and to do my part to help alleviate it. Remind me everyday that “if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
G’mar Chatimah Tova – May each of us be blessed with goodness and the power to do good in the coming year, and may each of us be the best version of ourselves. Kein y’hi ratzon.