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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘mind’

Davening–Praying Can Be Good for your Health

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Davening – praying – may not top physicians’ prescribed regimens for boosting health, but it benefits both mind and body beyond the spiritual elevation that comes with it.

Davening provides mental stimulation that helps keep the brain healthy, as an active mind has less chance of memory loss over time. With prayer services of substantial length, davening requires focus, concentration, discipline, and proper articulation, not only to get through the prayers and passages but to finish them on time, since in a minyan you’re praying together with others.

It could be argued that with the repetition of the same prayers week after week, year after year, the congregant is more or less able to daven by rote. That may be true, but there are a lot of words to recall, so even when the prayers are recited by rote, the mind is still stimulated. Indeed, whether one davens from memory or finds new challenges with each recitation, davening, for those of us who do so regularly, is like a daily mental workout.

If Hebrew is not your native language or one in which you are fluent, carrying out this endeavor has additional mental benefits; the recitation is even more challenging and therefore provides a better workout for the brain.

Davening is not a sedentary act; there are specific motions that accompany particular passages. During the course of the service the davener stands, sits, stands, bows, straightens up, turns, takes steps backward and forward, sits, stands, sits, stands, bows, and so forth. It’s not running, it’s not bench pressing, it’s not a high-energy workout, but it’s movement – and that can only be counted as positive.

For some people, particularly the elderly, davening may be one of the few forms of exercise they get. Done multiple times daily or weekly, it contributes to the minimum daily exercise recommended by various health authorities to increase longevity.

There are ancillary benefits that may be associated with davening. How does the davener get to synagogue? Walking is, of course, always healthy, particularly at a brisk pace. Davening at shul is a communal activity, and the camaraderie can lead to higher self-esteem and well-being and thus to better mental health. Singing prayers as part of a group can have similar benefits.

Some who daven are able to read or recite the Hebrew in the siddur but don’t know what the words mean. It behooves the davener to be able to translate the words properly in order to get the full benefit of davening. This provides further mental stimulation.

Because the text has so many layers of meaning, even the seasoned davener who understands what is being recited may discover new interpretations or challenges, which also helps keep the mind active.

Of course, correlations have been made between faith and well-being, and some elderly people have attributed their long lifespan to their faith. So these are benefits on top of the act of davening itself.

Davening can be a conduit to a sharp mind and a limber body. For religious fulfillment and mental and physical stimulation, it is a win-win practice. It’s never too late to start davening your way to good health.

Pangs of Conscience on the Plains of Serengeti

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Readers of my column are aware that I returned to Africa to further my understanding of the Rwandan genocide and highlight the slaughter so that humanity can learn from its deplorable record of atrocity.

But I ended up learning perhaps even more about human and animal nature from the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania.

Charles Darwin believed that we are all caught in an escapable struggle for survival where the powerful prey on the weak. This idea was one he garnered from watching animals, primarily and famously, in the Galapagos islands (I wrote a column on my visit to the Galapagos that can be found here. If only he had come to the plains of the Serengeti.

I have previously been on safari in African countries, primarily the excellent Kruger Park in South Africa. But nothing prepares you for the sheer brilliance and violence on display in the Serengeti. Today we saw three Cheetah move, with seemingly infinite patience, through the tall grass of the savannah, toward a Thomson gazelle which, in one short final burst, they fell in an instant and devoured almost totally in just fifteen minutes. When they departed the vultures appeared almost instantly along with other scavengers who were happy to feast on the scraps.

What went through my mind was that I was bearing living witness to every platitude I had ever heard. How only the fittest survive. How naiveté can be deadly (the gazelle stood enjoying the shade utterly oblivious to the impending disaster). And, more than anything else, the rewards of patience. The Cheetah crouched idly in the grass, moving only a step or two every few minutes, slowly and stealthily encroaching on its prey until it utterly destroyed its target. I, who has never excelled at patience, was in awe.

We were to witness the same sneak attack on the part of a female lion who, for over an hour, moved so slowly through a ridge in the grass, drawing ever nearer to an antelope, that it beggared belief she move that slowly. Baking in the sun and breathing heavily to deal with the heat (lions don’t sweat and regulate their temperature through respiration, or so I’m told), she waited and crouched in order to kill the antelope and feed her cubs. And after that monumental exertion, all was for naught as the antelope, seemingly oblivious to her approach, suddenly darted away.

But there was another emotion that I shared with my wife as we watched and watched, anticipating the kill. Were we no different to Roman hordes gathering in the coliseum to witness bloody spectacle as entertainment? Were we not the ones who would have signaled ‘thumbs down,’ begging the emperor for permission for one gladiator to disembowel the other for our enjoyment? Were we innocent bystanders as the weak were being devoured by the strong?

OK, I get it. This is the law of the jungle and I’m not meant to intervene. The beauty of the Serengeti is its utterly natural habitat, nearly unspoiled by human interference. We were meant to be spectators, innocent bystanders, on looking tourists, to the working of nature.

And yet…

Was not human society built on something utterly different that proved Darwin wrong? That human beings developed something called ethics which mandated, contrary to Nietzschean ideas of the ubermensch, that the strong are meant to use their might to protect the weak. That we are not animals but are endowed with a soul that gives us an innate conscience, a feeling of right and wrong, a desire to intercede when the powerful are guilty of injustice against the weak.

With all the tourists watching in utter silence as the Cheetahs and lions approached their prey, I whispered to my wife, perhaps only half jokingly, that my mind was drifting toward the famous doctrine known as R2P, or “Responsibility to Protect.” Samantha Power, the world’s foremost voice against genocide, was just confirmed as America’s new Ambassador to the United Nations. She is a personal friend and I campaigned hard for her confirmation. Once, I studied with her what I believe to be the only ancient source for R2P, namely, the Bible’s injunction in Leviticus, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

Reading the Mind of God

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

I am beginning to believe that reading the mind of God is a predilection of Haredi  rabbis. At least a certain type of Haredi rabbi indigenous to the holy land. Increasingly it seems that tragedies are attributed to ‘the evil of the day’. Which almost always is connected to sex.  Which makes me wonder about the Gemarah’s s statement ‘Avira D’Ara Machkim’ – that the mere air in the land of Israel makes one wise.

Here is the latest one from a letter in Hamodia republished in Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel. It was signed by Rav Shmuel Littman.  I have no clue who that is. But it seems obvious to me by what he writes that he a Haredi Rav. Although certainly not a moderate.

His problem? Mixed seating on buses. He has determined that mixed seating on buses is the cause of their being bombed by suicide bombers.

Rav Littman can now confidently join the ranks of all those others that blame every tragedy on their myopic biases of what plagues the Jewish community. They ‘know’ that that the biggest tragedy facing Klal Yisroel is the lack of a ‘proper approach’ to sex. No matter what the tragedy, some element of that is pointed to as the reason God found it necessary to send us a message. In Rav Littman’s case he is telling us that God found it necessary to tell us about the importance of segregating buses by blowing up a few of them killing and maiming all the innocent people aboard.

How did he determine this great piece of ‘wisdom and insight’? Isn’t it obvious? There hasn’t been a suicide bombing ever since Mehadrin buses were implemented in the Haredi neighborhoods. Here is how he put it:

As soon as these chariots of kedusha started running, the suicide bombers stopped.

That is what is protecting us. Why does he bring this up now? He is worried.  Israel’s supreme court has made Mehadrin buses illegal.  Although segregating the sexes may still be done on a voluntary basis – no one has the right to tell a passenger to change their seat.  So if a woman sits in the front of the bus in the so called (unofficial) men’s section, no one is allowed to ask her to get up and move to the rear – even if they do so politely. This – says Rav Littman ‘compromise(s) the safety of our nation’.

Rav Littman almost begs people to take heed, arguing that even married couples should not object to sitting apart for the ‘short’ bus ride. They need to talk? – he asks? They can do it when they get home, for Pete’s sake!

Of course an elderly couple where one of them needs the support of the other because of health or medical issues does not occur to him to be an issue. Maybe he thinks that Tznius issues require that an elderly couple like that simply stay home. What if they need to see a doctor? Well I suppose they can just take a more expensive cab.  That they live on a fixed income is certainly no issue when it comes to the Kedusha that is generated by those who worship the concept of the Mehadrin bus.

Like the Kedusha of those valiant Haredi Kannaoim who beat women up that violate said Kedusha by sitting in the men’s section of a relatively empty bus.  Or the dozens of other similar incidents were women were subjected to all manner of violence and/or  humiliation for doing that.

If this attitude weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. How anyone could claim to know the mind of God and thereby imply that the victims who were so brutally and suddenly murdered in bus bombings because buses in general were not sex segregated. How can anyone know – or believe so strongly he feels the need to warn us – that God’s wrath will descend upon us and start blowing up innocent people again if we don’t all adhere to Mehadrin bus rules voluntarily.

Need I add that the lack of ‘Kedusha’ that happens when a woman is occasionally found in the ‘men’s section’ of a bus is minuscule (if it exists at all) compared to the lack of Kedusha in the way the many rabbinic  leaders handle sex abuse?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/reading-the-mind-of-god/2013/08/11/

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