Friday, July 27, 2007

The Piaseczna on Mind Over Body- Practice Makes Perfect

When I'm not eating on Tisha B'Av, it makes me think about how fragile and delicate we in America are. One day without eating, and we're all lying down and plotzing for some food or a drink Tisha B'Av afternoon. It's a sad statement on people like me. This thought reminds me that it's a ma'aleh in kedusha to be in control of your simple, mutar ta'avos.

The Rebbe Reb Klonymous Kalaman of Piaseczna, the Aish Kodesh, wrote in his sefer, Bnei Machshava Tova, about the Ta'anis HaRitva. In this kind of ta'anis, rather than not eating, you pick one meal a day, twice a week, once a week or whatever, and you only eat half the amount you usually eat. i.e. Stop eating even while you still have room for more food, even though you would still like to eat. For many, including me, this is almost harder than not eating at all.

The idea is that you should not always be a slave to your desires, to what you want to do. The only way to break your body's hold over you is by getting actual practrice in not listening to it. There are many things you can do to this. If you want a snack because you will enjoy it, and you're not really hungry, just don't eat it. Use 1 sugar instead of 3 in your coffee. Like the Ritva said, eat half as much as you would like. The Piaseczna suggests not getting your favorite dish on the table, but only your second favorite.

Without practicing self-control, you don't have any self control. Sometimes I feel like saying to myself, "I don't have to always do what I feel like doing. I can control myself when I want to. I just don't want to." This is like the alcoholic or the smoker who says, "I can quit whenever I want to, I just don't want to." This reminds me of the story of the Ba'al Mussar, whose name I can't remember, who once woke up early in the morning, desiring a glass of water. He was suddenly frozen with indecision. If he got the water, he'd be giving into his ta'ava for a drink (assuming he didn't really neeed it right then). If he didn't he'd be giveing into his laziness by not getting out of bed. His solution? He got out of bed and went to the sink but didn't get a drink. He was really focused on not being a slave to his desires. He wanted to live a life of decisions and not of desires.

May Hashem give us the strength to do one or more of these exercises in self-control each week in order to be people who are rulers over their body, and not people whose bodies rule over them.

-Dixie Yid


Alice said...

I have noticed that if you focus on ordering the most nutritious item on the menu- even if you are pretty sure you won't enjoy it- the meal is satisfying in a whole new way. You feel like you've staved off disease, given your brain omega 3s, etc. And as you pointed out, you will be less likely to eat every bite when you don't need to.

DixieYid said...

That's a great bit of advice. It also kills 2 birds with one stone. You eat more nutritiously and eat less, thus eating in a more healthy way. And even more importantly, you are breaking your body's hold over your every decision.

I used to look askance at non-Jews' "New Year's Resolutions" like going on a diet. I thought, "That's not a resolution to be a better person! That's just wanting to be thin for the purposes of vanity." Altough that may indeed be most people's intention, I now think that there is something very spiritual about "losing weight" or dieting. The process of doing so, if successful, trains a person not to be a slave to their desires, hungers, and ta'avos. And that's a good thing.

-Dixie Yid

A Simple Jew said...

I was just recently listening to shiurim from Rabbi Nasan Maimon on a lesson in Likutey Moharan that deals with eating. Here are two quotes from Rebbe Nachman that address this topic:

- When a person is sunk in the desire to eat greedily it is certain that he is far from truth.

- When a person manages to break his desire for food, G-d works miracles through him.

Alice said...

For sure. I am in no way saying that being chubby makes a person a bad humanbeing. Please! But doesn't the yetzer hara use anything it can to get you down? And feeling heavy and unhealthy does bring one's spirit down, while exercise- and feeling light on one's feet- does the reverse. It also lengthens one's life which means more time here to make the world a better place. Losing weight to look bettter in skimpy clothes is no goal. And clearly this is a losing goal, because it leads to stupid dieting, which actually makes a person fatter in the long run.

Alice said...

Not to yammer on and on, but I want to add that I am greatly distressed by the extremes when it comes to young women and eating. The pressure exterted on women to be pretty objects is totally
WRONG and soul crushing. But, the idea that we can be healthy without exercising and attending to what we eat is also coo-coo.

DixieYid said...


Agreed. I didn't think you were saying anything similar to chubbyness=bad person. I was also mentioning the idea that there is a spiritual side to controling what one eats, even to lose weight (assuming it's done in a physically and emotionally healthy way), because it causes a person to internalize the ability to do only what one *decides* to do, and not merely what one wants to do.

And I hear what you're saying about women and weight. I am not in this parsha yet with my children (oldest in 3rd grade), but I have heard that bochurim and their mothers (!) often ask what dress side a prospective shidduch is. (!!!???) Hashem help us.


Great quotes from Rebbe Nachman. I *so* hear it.

-Dixie Yid

Alice said...

Dress size....that's so depressing. On the other hand, maybe God is letting the parents of the girl know that the guy should be avoided because he is shallow- assuming of course that the question is coming from the male and not simply a concern of his parents. (As if.)

DixieYid said...

Worse: I've also heard that some ask what the girl's mother's dress size is, since the girl will presumably be about that size one day...


-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...


Passionate Life said...

Great piece Dixie Yid!

Its part of the reason why I don't eat non cholov yisroel products. Halachicaly there are enough haterim to eat non cholov yisroel but for me living in New York, the only products that I would need non cholov yisroel for would be Hershy chocolate and Hagen Daz ice cream.

I refrain from eating those more from a personal control issue versus an halachic one. Which as it turns out is a type of Halacha according to your piece. ;-)