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Bodily Teshuvah

One of the greatest spiritual insights of Judaism is the concept of Teshuvah. Teshuvah means we are not trapped; the scripts of our youth or broken relationships do not have to imprison us. We are capable of self-creation, meaning we are capable of writing new scripts and new ways of being in the world. Over the next few weeks I’d like to share a few different elements of Teshuvah, each time with simple exercises to practice a new way of being.

Here are three exercises for bodily teshuvah, teshuvah gufanit: I urge you to pick one or pick one other healthy habit for practice this week.

Exercise 1 : Most Americans do not get enough sleep. Nearly everyone needs 8-9 hours of sleep a night. I invite you to change one thing about your sleep habits to help you get better sleep. Suggestions include: sign off of media, including TV and internet, 30 minutes before bedtime. Create a ritual of unwinding, which could be as simple as reading a book or listening to soothing music.

Exercise 2 : Most Americans do not drink enough water. The average man needs about 5 liters; the average woman about 3. Exercise or other sustained physical activity requires even more. Keep track of water consumption and make sure you are drinking enough.

Exercise 3: Before sleep, take three long breaths. Exhale after each. When you are done, bring to mind three things for which you are grateful. Take another long breath. Now say, “I breath out my stress and worries. I trust in God / the Universe to hold these worries for me in the night as I sleep. May I be granted a night of deep sleep.” Then take one more breath and turn out the lights.

Background on this type of teshvuah

First, according to Rav Kook, is teshuvah-gufanit, bodily teshuvah. I start here because it’s the easiest to understand, though often the hardest to maintain. Bodily teshuvah means exactly what it sounds like. It is about developing healthy habits so that the physical body has energy and health to enable moral and spiritual growth.

When the body is thriving, the inner self has more resources. Exhaustion dampens creativity and hope; good sleep and physical activity engender energy and resources. In this regard, we do a poor job of letting go of stress and the concerns of the day. Many people (myself included) wear night guards to prevent teeth grinding as that stress releases itself in sleep. I invite you to explore how you could let go of that stress before sleep.

The body is a thing of value. For us as Jews, caring for the body is itself a holy act. Exercise, hygiene, sleep, these are all elements of the teshuvah process both because they create additional energy and resources for personal change and because we are commanded to honor the body that God created for us. Nearly every mitzvah in Judaism has a physical element; only by caring for our bodies can we in the service of God.

By gaining one healthy practice this week, perhaps next week as we explore teshuvah-naphshi (soul teshuvah) you will find you have more energy and resources for the next stage of personal and spiritual growth.

Ps: This Shabbat is the first ever Madrichim Shabbaton. I’m joining Sarah Miller and our amazing teens for a Shabbat at Hidden Villa. I look forward to seeing you next week!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Booth

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784