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Comfort of the Body or Comfort of the Soul?


Comfort of the Body or Comfort of the Soul?

I went to a shiur today. The topic was on Happiness.

Let me give you the background. I have been going to this class for about a year – the rebbetzin picks a middah and we unpack it over the course of many months.

On the topic of happiness, we have delved into the topic of sadness. Which has led us into materialism. You know the gemara that says ‘The more you have, the more you worry’ – and isn’t it true.

I’ll be really honest here and say that ever since I can remember, I always dreamed of being rich. I don’t really consider myself a materialistic person but growing up in a family of nine, there were just things I wanted really badly. For instance, I always wanted my linen to be matching. We didn’t have that growing up. There were too many balls in the air and it wasn’t vital to survival, and it’s not like my other siblings felt so deprived by this lack. But I remember feeling this lack vividly.

Fast forward into my thirties, and I grapple with what’s a need and what’s a want. I have to remind myself that I live in one of the most affluent Jewish communities, and the community I grew up in is still probably one of the simplest of its kind. You can’t argue that my childhood lifestyle definitely gave me an invaluable quality of not needing fancy things, but I’ve come to a harsh reality in my life of really wanting nice things. I want a house to live in and a nice one at that. I want nice clothing for myself and of course for my kids.

Do I want nice clothing to show off – to show the neighbors I can afford to, or because I just want nice things because I am human?

I recently went to another shiur given by my husbands Rosh HaYeshiva. He painted the ultimate scene of menuchas haguf. Sitting on the beach – enjoying the nice weather and waves. The lack of responsibility was nice too. But he challenged us to see if this is pleasure for the sake of pleasure or pleasure for the sake of elevating our neshama. And that struck a chord.

Many years back, I remember hearing a rav say – do you want the big house to have the big house, or do you want the big house to host guests and have beautiful shabbas/yuntif meals? You can ask Hashem for anything and He knows your intention.

80 years ago when Rav Aharon Kotler started the yeshiva in Lakewood, there were mismatched chairs and very plain food. On shabbos, he would begin to speak when the cholent was hot, giving the boys a clear message that food is not that important. This message is confusing now in 2022, when we are given a very clear message of improving our self care and not suffering for no reason.

What is the right answer? Have we become consumed by materialism versus using it to better our lives?

Let’s take the internet and technology for a moment. No doubt, technological advances have made our lives easier – but have they made our lives better or worse?

Most of us would not be willing to give up our smartphones, laptops, tablets, tushy warmers in the car, smart fridges that make us a coffee and machines we can speak to who begin playing us music. I thoroughly enjoy all of those things in my life and would not want to live without them.

In Israel, we all have seen large families living in 3 or even 2 bedroom apartments and doing it happily and functionally. Here in America, it has become the standard to buy a house. And of course I don’t believe anything is wrong with that. We want a nice house. We want matching furniture. We want our bedrooms to be cozy and we want to make our guests comfortable as well. Where do we draw the line? I don’t know myself.

Vacations can be such a nice bonding experience for everyone – but are we being spoiled? Is there such a thing as too much vacationing? If you can afford something does that mean you need to buy it?

And I can’t not mention my own struggle with financial anxiety and now learning to adapt an abundance mindset. Can these ideas fit into Jewish concepts and Jewish lifestyles?

What I believe my husband’s Rav was trying to say, and perhaps the Rebbetzin as well, is that physical pleasures can be a really good thing. Hashem created a world filled with physical pleasures. Part of the self care rage is that for so many years, people really were deprived of physical pleasures. Perhaps our psyches became adjusted to living with less – but were we happier? How should I know? I know we tend to galvanize the years of old. The good ole days we all dream about.

We’ll have to speak about diet culture for a moment too. We are all obsessed with living a healthy lifestyle now. So many people speak of all the “garbage” on the market now and how the “obesity epidemic” is killing America. Well, my friends, just a few 10’s or 100’s of years ago, people died at really young ages. We didn’t have genetically modified food to literally mass produce food to feed entire countries, cheaply.

I am not arguing that GMO’S are good OR bad, I am simply saying I think that we should give credit where credit is due. We should enjoy all the positive and beautiful things in our lives and use them to better our lives, physically and spiritually. And don’t they go hand in hand? Don’t you feel so happy to give to someone when you feel physically comfortable? Don’t you feel connected to pray when you need something physically? We cannot separate the two.

I believe we can have a barometer of calculating what serves us and what we are serving. What are we using to elevate our lives and what’s bringing us down. I don’t really think we should buy fancy things to impress the neighbors, as that is living for someone else. I think we can buy nice things if we can afford it and it brings us real joy.

Menuchas Haguf, comfort in our body can last a long time, especially if it is coupled with Menuchas Hanefesh, comfort of the soul. I’d ask you the question – does this bring you long term happiness or are you constantly looking for more? These are questions that everyone can ask themselves and decide what’s right for them. What do you think?

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Gila Glassberg, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, holding an inclusive variety of foods

Gila Glassberg is a Master's level registered dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. As a teenager, she was faced with constant diet talk, body shaming and obsessive guilt around food. She struggled with disordered eating. This is what propelled her into the field of nutrition. She uses a non-diet, weight-neutral approach called Intuitive Eating. She helps growth oriented women break out of chronic dieting, and regain clarity into what is really important to them.

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