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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


June 13, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Sweat… because it’s a mitzvah

By Rabbi Ed Rosenthal Executive Director, Hillels of the Florida Suncoast

So the honor fell to me to write the Rabbinically Speaking article for the annual Health and Fitness Special Section of the Jewish Press. By virtue of working with college students I live a fairly active life, and as a vegetarian I like to think that I eat healthy. Generally speaking I’m in pretty good shape but admit that I am not a regular gym goer. I want to be and I know I need it, but there are always so many other things to be done. Basically, I can come up with a million excuses NOT to go to the gym but then I remember an experience I had in younger days.

In 1983 I was a young rabbinical student spending the summer at the United States Navy Chaplain School in Newport, RI. It was an incredible experience where I learned not only what it is to be a Navy Officer, but also about the many different faith traditions of the other chaplains. It was a great learning opportunity and an honor to serve my country. The only down side (if you can call it that) was the physical training that was part of the daily regimen of Navy Life. Every morning, we were up at 5 a.m. and had 45 minutes to shower, pray and eat breakfast before we hit the exercise field. I was in better physical shape at that time than I had ever been. We did push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, jumping jacks,squatthrustsandendedeverydaywitha3mile run. After about a month of this, another rabbi who was older than I, and quite a bit heavier said, “I’ve been searching the tradition, and I can’t find anything that justifies what we’re doing.” Ironically, I had just learned a Midrash of Hillel HaZaken from Vayikra Rabba (34:3) which I shared with him:

“After finishing a session of study with his disciples, Hillel kept walking along with them. His disciples asked him, ‘Master, where are you going?’ He answered, ‘to perform a mitzvah.” Which mitzvah?’ He replied, ‘to wash up in the bathhouse.’ ‘But is that a mitzvah?’ ‘It is indeed,’ he replied. ‘Kings’ statues set up in theatres and circuses have to be scoured and washed down by a person specially appointed to look after them. Even more… the person is esteemed as being among the notables of the kingdom. How much the more so am I required to scour and wash myself, I who have been created in the image and likeness of God?’”

The older rabbi promptly replied: “Thank You. If sweating like this is a mitzvah, then I cannot come up with a single excuse why I should not be doing it.”

May all of us, created in God’s image, eat healthy, go to the doctor for regular checkups, floss daily, exercise regularly and sweat…. Because it’s a mitzvah.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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