My friend Mike, who has also served as our children’s pediatrician, maintains that a healthy person who eats a well-balanced diet does not need much in the way of vitamins and supplements. The healthy foods we eat contain more than enough nutrients; most of the vitamins pass right through.
Increasingly doctors recognize that maintaining health involves much more than how we handle physical hygiene and integrate proper diet and exercise. How we feel about life and maintaining a positive attitude about life…finding ways to celebrate each other and cherish special times also contributes to wellness.
Long ago I noticed that the spelling of Illness and Wellness holds a clue to this aspect of health. The only difference in the spelling of those two words is “I”llness and “WE”llness. Life as we know it is like a smorgasbord, an overwhelming range of choices to make as to how we live, what we do with our time, who we share our journeys with, and the challenge to limit how much of the “goodies” we intake, whether at a meal, or in the many activities that crowd the day.
I believe that when it comes to life’s many choices and challenges that stretch time beyond manageable limits, there is value in having “spiritual” vitamins and supplements that can help us manage the smorgasbord. They provide “controls” over our appetites and desires to do everything in putting energy into activities that are not as healthy as some we overlook or undervalue.
Life in this country is premised on people having the freedom to do what they want. Further, the choices we are given or are placed front and center before our eyes and appetites are less about what is good for us and more about marketing. In school, youngsters are given the skills to get ahead, to achieve the rewards of material prosperity in preparing for life work. The structure in which we operate is based on each person learning to look out for him/her self. There is little in the way of life-affirming values and ethics that are offered in the educational process that prepares each generation for life in this world. Particularly in the USA, the focus is on individual achievement; there is little or no context that promotes “we”llness, being in relationship, let alone building and maintaining community. Many if not most Americans are fully secularly grounded and not raising their children with the values found in religious and spiritual circles. Moreover some of the most prominent mention of religion in this country is in the context of judgment and denigration of those who don’t accept God in one particular way or another.
Judaism is unique in not making claims that its system is the “chosen” one. Ironically, mention of Jews as the “chosen people” is much more a projection from other groups onto Judaism than what is actually heralded by Judaism. Anyone interested in becoming Jewish is first to be told to reexamine their own, and even other traditions to be sure they cannot find what they lack elsewhere before engaging Judaism.
What is important from Judaism’s perspective is that everyone takes their vitamins and supplements, the spiritual ones. We each make decisions about what is important in life and how to prioritize our time. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a supplement whose primary contribution is to help us with how to prioritize time and what is more important to focus on? Most people do not know or realize, perhaps due to a lack of time for such discovery, that Judaism’s primary purpose in life is to help us manage our time in making decisions that are healthy for us. Every holiday and ritual we have is about catching time and seeing its unique value in whatever moment we are in. In a world of too much choice and too much to do, it is important to have ways to discover and adopt and live values that will help us make healthier decisions about what we are doing and with whom, beginning with finding contexts to share life’s moments with people who can reinforce values of goodness, kindness, caring, and doing what is right even if it isn’t convenient and or doesn’t count as a billable hour.
Whether or not you need vitamins and supplements to address your physical health, it is important that you not ignore or discard the spiritual vitamins and supplements. Our system teaches that life is for people to live together in living a truth that “we all have a need to be needed” (a teaching from Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism).
If you are reading this, it is likely you have some connection to the B’nai Israel community. Please read elsewhere in this bulletin of all the activities and services we provide, including our youngsters leading us for Shabbat Tu Bishvat on February 2 and our gala celebration of Purim on March 3. Consider each activity as an opportunity to absorb a valuable vitamin and supplement, good for the kids and for the adults, and for the betterment of life in this complicated value-less society we inhabit.