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Stephen Myerson - D'var Torah

Shabbat Shalom and welcome all to our B’nei Mitzvah.

If I were still 13, I would both thank my parents and blame them for the stage fright I felt at 13 years of age. At my first Bar Mitzvah 60 years ago, I was motivated by parental insistence and images of my grandparents weeping in the background.’ – I was NOT motivated by spirituality. This time around, I can proudly say I have studied this Bar Mitzvah without promise of immunity or financial reward and did/do so freely without hesitation so help me God. AND, I do so with a heightened spirituality and enthusiasm for the practice of Judaism.

Sadly my parents are gone, both having succumbed to heart disease. But, the loves of my life, my friends and this community are here to thank. So thank you all.

God’s gift to Moses on Mount Sinai is a concise oral story that lays out the practices to be followed going back to the First Temple. The Book of Leviticus begins a discussion of what we can, and should, eat AND which saturated fats to avoid in one’s diet, and the consequences of such consumption: … he who violates “shall be cut off from kin.” Incidentally, Leviticus also talks about circumcision, but that is someone else’s Bar Mitzvah.

However recently I had my own Mt. Sinai and burning bush experience at which I realized just how fragile life can be. In November last year, I was awakening not high on Mt. Sinai but certainly I was high and I was up on a gurney in the recovery room at Renown with a slight burning sensation in my heart. I had what cardiologists call a “cardiac event” which is a euphemism for a near death experience. Certainly, my case was relatively minor compared to the seriousness of multiple by-pass or valve replacement surgery. But, I awoke feeling depressed, worried, and afraid of what the future would look like knowing it could end quickly and perhaps sooner than I ever expected. My view of immortality was shattered. Here I was following in my parents final footsteps. And so, this Bar Mitzvah study took on a more serious and dedicated perspective about my parents, my genetics, my life expectancy and this Torah portion.

I previously mentioned the great scholar Yehuda haNasi, the highly revered Rabbi Judah the Prince from the first century. I pondered what he and his colleagues might have placed into words and added to the Mishnah had he had the benefit of 21st century thinking and research on diet.

In my research about these Torah verses, I looked at the writings of Moses ben Maimon, also referred to as Rambam and simply Maimonides. This gentleman was a Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. In his time, he was also a preeminent astronomer, and physician. In his writings, Maimonides described asthma, diabetes, hepatitis and pneumonia, and HE EMPHASIZED MODERATION AND A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE. Incidentally, many medical institutions include the name of Maimonides because of his great contributions to health sciences.

And finally, to bring my understanding of these Torah portions into the 21st century I had Breakfast right here at Temple Sinai with several well-known cardiologists. Each suggested a more sinister consequence than mere “cut off from kin”. To prevent premature death, they all agreed about the importance of improved diet and exercise.

The issue of eating cheilev (fat) weighs heavily in the consequence of this Torah portion being “cut off from kin.” The simple matter of paying close attention to the types of fat, the amounts of salt and sugars we ingest and the use of refined grains are of critical concern in this 21st century. Diseases such as arthrosclerosis, diabetes, stroke, heart failure, obesity and perhaps dementia are all related to the matter of diet and lifestyle which is directly linked to one’s life expectancy. Most of us are much too familiar with the typical Ashkenazi diet: Fatty creme cheese, salty fish, fatty brisket, chicken livers & schmaltz, eggs galore, sour creme, refined flour sweet everything, and of course chocolate bubka which gained me 8 pounds on our recent Temple Sinai Israeli trip.

I was motivated by these words of Leviticus as well as my cardiologists that an immediate change in diet was critical to reduce my bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipid blockages in my vascular system. In fact my dear friends, MOST, note I said most, coronary artery disease, bypass surgery and other major heart diseases might (note I said might) have been avoided had we paid more attention to our diets from before the typical bar mitzvah age.

And we must not overlook the importance of exercise both aerobic and strengthening exercises to balance our diets. There is much literature in addition to our Torah, the Zohar, and the Mishnah Torah that better defines the importance of improved lifestyle changes.

So, if your desire is to have God bless you and keep you on this earth take heed. Your family will love you longer -- and you will love life longer -- by paying attention to the early chapters of Leviticus as well as your cardiologists. I hope you realize that our Torah is not an outdated religious scroll. Take heed and reflect on your personal dietary lifestyle.

דַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר כָּל־חֵ֜לֶב שׁ֥וֹר וְכֶ֛שֶׂב וָעֵ֖ז לֹ֥א תֹאכֵֽלוּ׃

Lev. 7:23 -- God spoke to Moses and said: “Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: You shall not eat any fat of an ox, sheep, or goat.”

Now May you all have good health and a Shabbat Shalom.

 

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