It's Been Three Years Since I Decided to Not Be Fat. This Is What I've Learned About It.
People often ask me what the turning point was. What was it that propelled me to lose almost 100 lbs, overturn my eating habits and run marathons?
Truthfully, I didn't know at the time. It wasn't was any particular event or occasion. Certainly nothing that I could point to and say “that's why”. But it was between Parshas Korach and Parshas Chukas three summers ago that I decided to reengage in trying to change.
I say “reengage” because, like most people, I tried a little on and off for years. Mostly to convince myself that it wasn't going to work, or that it wasn't worth the effort.
So what made this time different?
Strangely, it was the absence of any reason or purpose that really got me started. Allow me to explain:
When we think of changing something in our lives, we often tether it to some point in time; an event, a milestone or an occasion. “Gotta fit into that dress”, “really have to look good in the pictures,” “don't want them to see me like this...”
Invariably, those events inspire some desire to change, but all too often, we're unsuccessful, and in the the rare cases of success, it's unsustainable.
Naturally, when the deadline has passed, whether our goals have been achieved or not, our habits return to status quo, leaving us no better than before, and perhaps more dejected.
So we wait for the next inflection point. The next simcha, graduation, or doctor's visit. Something, anything to propel us past the failures.
And three years ago, as I looked at myself in the mirror I thought “I should really do something about this before the... by the time that...” And I drew blanks. There was nothing that came to mind. There was no date in my immediate future that might serve as my reason to change.
Perhaps for the very first time, it dawned upon me that this problem was mine to own and mine to fix. Nothing and no-one was going to save me. All of this meant that in that moment, the non-choice to change, was a clear and obvious choice to not change.
The same is true regarding all of the most daunting challenges we face: paying off debt, giving up smoking, trying new business ventures, and rebuilding broken relationships. When there is no natural deadline in the distance, there are only two choices: Choose to or choose not to.
I had a similar conversation with some guys a while back about minyan attendance and regular learning. In these areas too, there are inflection points along the road of growth. “I'll get serious at my bar mitzvah” or “when I get to high school”. For many, all growth is swept under the “yeshiva year in Israel” rug. By the time we're raising families, paying tuition and building careers, there are few natural inflection points left.
If we don't make the choice to actively engage in Torah and Tefillah there is no rebbe, rabbi, yeshiva or school that will “make us” do it. Of course, that's not to say it's simple to choose to dedicate ourselves to change and growth. None of this is simple.
When the Rambam (הל׳ ת״ת א׳:ח׳) codifies the obligation of Talmud Torah he writes about our life circumstances:
Every man in Israel is obliged to study Torah, whether he is poor or rich, whether he is physically healthy or ailing, whether he is in full strength of youth or of great age and weakened vitality; even if he is dependent upon charity for his livelihood, or going around from door to door begging his daily bread, and even he who has a wife and children to support...
The magnitude of challenges is obvious: A person with a family will find Talmud Torah hardest. This doesn't absolve us. It simply means that the choice to achieve or to fail is one that we make ourselves.
No one wants to choose failure, so why don't we all simply get on with solving our issues? Welll of course, there is a third “choice”: the implicit choice to not do anything. Not to think about it. Not to consider our choices.
As we all know, this is always easier in the short term. We barely need to rationalize it. It does not take long to learn how to procrastinate and dismiss the feelings of discomfort and failure until they barely register in our conscious minds.
We becomes practiced at running and hiding from that which we don't want to face. We cover the layers of shame with blame and distraction. A little self-deprecation goes a long way in a social setting. But the pain doesn't go away when the crowd dissipates.
The things we don't want to deal with gnaw at us, making us bitter and resentful. We feel like we're deluding the world, sometimes even ourselves, pretending to be ok with it, but inwardly feeling cowardly and weak.
We all feel this way in areas small and large. You'll know exactly what I'm talking about if you're afraid to get on the scale, open that envelope, check your email, login to that account, or return that particular phone call.
If the mere reading of this is making you anxious, you're in good company. We're engaging with one of the most formidable enemies that the Jewish people have ever faced. The Torah, this shabbos, calls him Sichon, the king of Cheshbon. Before our people could enter into the Land of Israel we needed to fight and vanquish the King of Cheshbon.
Who or what is Sichon? Chazal (ב״ב עח ב) explain that inside of each of our minds is the possibility to make good educated considerations (Cheshbonos). To take stock of our present and future, and to choose the correct course of action. But the road to that Cheshbon HaNefesh is blocked by Sichon. This is true on a person level and a national one.
What's the secret weapon to thinking clearly and defeating the King of Cheshbon?
Reb Tzadok (פרי צדיק דברים ג׳) quotes from the Izbitzer that:
הישראל שמאמין שיש עוד עולם לעולם הבא כבר הוא ישראל שנושע בכל ענינו A Jew who believes that there is a future world is already a Jew who can be saved entirely.
Practically, this is not simply the belief in a future world. Rather that we believe that our world is leading to that future.
To put this in a very personal context: It means internalizing the truth that “future me” will be really happy that “present me” is dealing with this now. It means living as if this moment is important my future.
Reb Tzadok continues that perhaps this is the meaning of ״כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא״ – Every Jew has a portion in the world to come: To be a Jew is to live with the constant realization that the present is leading to the future.
The reason that we live with shame and regret, rather than success, is because we rarely choose to put up a fight. Often we would find ourselves victorious if we actually engaged in battle. The pathway to “future us” is so often blocked by fear of failure and judgment that we retreat. But the moment that we choose to face it head on, without judging ourselves and self-loathing, is the moment we begin to defeat it.
In the words of Rav Kook (ש״ק ח:נח):
Mankind is fearful after failure and sin, Thinking that our mistakes have injured us, Rendering us hopeless. We do not understand that fear itself Is the sign that we are standing At the crossroads of our lives.
Hashem should help us this summer to face what we fear. To square off against the King of Cheshbon and emerge victorious.