April 2017

Of the Book


By Daniel Bortz

Today, it’s hard to ignore the emphasis placed on being in shape, exercising regularly, eating right, and doing everything in one’s power to live a long and healthy life. But healthy living isn’t only related to one’s waistline but also to one’s mind and inner well-being.

The greatest of Sages, with Maimonides (1135-1204) at the forefront, taught that the path to good health comes through living a balanced life. The need for balance must pervade all of reality, as it is said, “Man is a miniature world.” (Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, 1:72.) Too much sugar can cause diabetes while low blood sugar can lead to hypoglycemia. Too many bacteria-fighting white blood cells is neutrophilia, while too few is neutropenia, both conditions lead to ill health. Our lungs breathe in and breathe out. Our muscles contract and expand. The waves of the ocean dash forward to shore only to return back to the sea.

Just as we need physical balance for optimal functionality, we also need mental and emotional balance. It’s important to strive and accomplish, but this ambitious mentality must be balanced with time for relaxation and restoration, time with loved ones and a balanced schedule. Raising children requires a balance of kindness and love with discipline and boundaries.

Every holiday has a unique spiritual energy connected to the original events it commemorates, an energy that resurfaces every year on that date. The holiday most aligned with balance is Passover. On the first night of Passover, it is an ancient Jewish tradition to speak about the exodus from Egypt and the miracles that occurred, while partaking of a symbolic meal known as a pesach seder. Pesach literally means “leaping” (as God did when he passed over the homes of the Jewish people during the plague of the Egyptian male first-born), and seder means “order.” The seder is a program of “orderly leaping” compiled in a way that enables us to leap to great spiritual heights — a balanced order of directed, spiritual transcendence.

Passover is also known as the holiday of freedom, not only from physical slavery but also from internal mental and emotional bondage. What does it mean to be free? Is it doing whatever we want, whenever we want to? That approach may just be a form of selfish individualism as a slave to one’s desires. True human freedom is mastering one’s internal drive, tempering emotion by using the mind to transcend one’s limitations.

At this time of Passover, we are granted a special ability to transcend and free ourselves from anything that hinders us from achieving our true potential. Whether it’s depression, anger, low self-esteem, or addiction, Passover has an energy that we can tap into to reach true inner freedom. We just need to locate an area in our lives that’s in need of balancing, choosing to ride the spiritual energy of the moment to break free of its shackles. Mistakes are normal. We aren’t expected to eliminate our animalistic desires. We work on taming and channeling them in a positive direction. This ability to balance our material desires with spiritual vitality is the key to a healthy and just life, as Maimonides teaches: “The upright path is the middle path.”

There are two areas of the human psyche that Maimonides says must be avoided to the extreme with no middle path: anger and ego. Sometimes, we need extreme methods in certain areas to reach a balance. Humility is symbolized by the matzah cracker that is flat, while hametz is bread that’s bloated and puffed up, symbolizing someone full of self. On Passover, we don’t just lessen or moderate our hametz intake; we eradicate it completely!

Are matzah and hametz really that different from one another? Matzah and leavened bread are separated only by a few extra minutes, even seconds, of baking flour in an oven! But that’s the point: Matzah is simply disciplined bread, symbolizing the crucial importance of healthy discipline and boundaries that give our lives true balance. Wishing you and yours an inspiring and liberating Passover!



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