Jewish Meditation: an Oxymoron?

The positive psychology movement has identified meditation as a key technique for increasing happiness and feelings of tranquility. But observant Jews don’t meditate, do they?

There are some excellent books and articles written by Rabbis and Jews about the traditional approach to simcha (Jewish joy). Most of them, unfortunately, ignore meditation as a tool for centering oneself and becoming happier. This seems to be part of a larger trend of marginalizing meditation, a practice that was once widespread among Jews.

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The Happiness of Hanukkah

Part of the happiness of Hanukkah (beyond the delicious latkes and sufganiyot, of course) is knowing our purpose, which is a crucial ingredient for experiencing simcha (Jewish joy).

In his amazing book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl (z’l) details his life philosophy. A man who suffered through the worst life has to offer realized:

Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning (page 121 in the paperback edition)

How does this relate to Hanukkah?

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Can you RUN to do a Mitzva?

It’s difficult to run to do mitzvot when your back and knees hurt.

It’s much easier to study Torah in a Yeshiva or Beit Midrash than it is in a hospital.

One must be alive and breathing to do good deeds for others.

Despite the skepticism of some in the traditional Jewish community towards healthy nutrition and fitness for a variety of reasons (which I covered in my last blog post), Judaism has always stressed taking care of one’s health and body. Our holy souls should not be housed in defiled vessels.

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5 Reasons Jews Don’t Exercise

As part of my efforts to feel greater happiness (simcha) and joy, I have begun working out and watching what I eat. I already feel a little better, but is my new focus at odds with traditional Judaism?

Unfortunately, there are some in the community who have taken a negative view of proper nutrition and physical fitness for a variety of reasons:

1. Exercise is a waste of time: wasting time is a serious offense in traditional Judaism and the Rabbis taught us to preoccupy ourselves mostly with Torah study, good deeds and prayer. It is sometimes difficult to find time to exercise when one also prays three times a day (in addition to all of life’s other responsibilities).

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Blessings in the Bathroom

Blessings in the Bathroom

My ten-day hospital stay approximately two years ago was a good spiritual refresher course. Perhaps surprisingly, many of my best lessons occurred in my hospital room’s bathroom.

I was hospitalized in Israel’s excellent Tel HaShomer hospital after suffering a painful urinary blockage that caused my lower pelvis to swell. In the preceding days I went to the restroom much more often than usual, but I simply could not empty my bladder. If you’ve never had that experience, it is frustrating, uncomfortable and worrisome.

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