Sinning Against Myself

Mirror, mirror...

Mirror, mirror… (Photo credit: janetmck)

Look in the mirror.  Look at the face that looks back at you.  What do you see?

Do you see a person

— who needs sleep?

— who needs to see a doctor?

— who drinks too much?

— who eats unhealthfully?

— who is too tired to know what she needs?

— who is depressed?

— who needs regular exercise and doesn’t get it?

— who hasn’t laughed in a month?

— who is secretly struggling with something she hopes no one else will notice?

— who needs help and won’t ask for it?

— who has been offered help but refuses to accept it?

— who is lonely?

— who is frightened about something?

— who hasn’t had a day off  in HOW long?

Modern secular culture encourages us not to take care of ourselves. We see advertisements for unhealthy foods, for “fun” gambling, for TV shows that are on late at night. We get caught up in the push for certain kinds of success. With our families scattered all over the country or the world, care for children or elders often falls on one or two family members, who get no help or relief. We avoid admitting to depression, mental illness, disabilities, because of the stigma they carry. We avoid asking for help because that would involve admitting that we need it.

These are sins against ourselves. When we fail to get enough sleep, good food, and enough exercise, we forget that our bodies are limited, that we are setting ourselves up for illness. When we fail to ask for or accept help, not only do we hurt ourselves, but we keep others from having the opportunity to do a mitzvah.

Ask: What could I change in my life so that I could get enough sleep? Help taking care of my aged parents? Help doing whatever it is I need to do to take care of myself?

Then make a plan.  Do it.

If the answer to that question is, “Nothing,” or “I don’t know” then make an appointment to talk with someone who can help you find options: a rabbi, a therapist, a counselor, a friend.  Admit how hard it’s all gotten to a person who won’t tell on you. Ask them to help you find some ways to lighten the burden.  Those ways exist, whether you can see them or not.

Make the call.  Do it.

For sins against God, the Day of Atonement atones, but for sins against human beings the Day of Atonement does not atone: those include the sins against ourselves.

Someone is waiting for you, and for me, in the mirror.


By Rabbi Ellen Greenspan

  • I am following in the footsteps of my colleagues and have chosen to write on the High Holy Day theme for today suggested by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer in her #BlogElul.

I am not a math person, yet when contemplating the word “counting” as part of my Elul reflection, I find myself a bit dismayed at all the things I count.

Do I have enough peaches from the farm stand to make this yummy sounding recipe for home made peach ice pops? (Lots of recipes on-line, but I tried one from a book I found in the library).

How many tomatoes are growing on my sorry looking tomato plants? (Not enough, but at least I have some)!

How many minutes did I run today in my effort to prepare for my first 5K in October? (A challenge from a friend to do a “Couch to 5K” program).

How many days until I send my daughter back to college in California (from our home in NJ)? She has not been home much this summer, and I am enjoying having her home for these last 2 weeks of the summer. But she is so eager to return to Pitzer College for her sophomore year that I can’t help but be excited for her.

How many shooting stars did I see when I was in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York with some college friends? Far from the city lights, we saw lots – and we didn’t even watch the sky for that long because it got chilly. It was the Perseid Meteor Shower, a reminder of G-d’s glory.

I could go on…. The things I count run the gamut from mundane to funny, from inspirational to depressing. “Counting” seems to be an unavoidable fact of life.

But, in this season of reflection and teshuvah, I am also counting my blessings. For my loving family, my amazing and supportive friends, good health and for life itself – all things that should not be taken for granted.


What the Talmud Taught Me About Yoga: Lessons From a Non-Yogi

Like others before me, I am trying to participate in Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s #BlogElul. Here’s a thought for Day 3.


The first time she said it, I am pretty sure I rolled my eyes. The second time too. Probably the third time. But somewhere along the way, the lights dimmed, candles burning, and the sounds of everyone else’s ujayyi breath lulled me into acquiescence.

I should state, for the record, that I had never been much of a yogi. Give me a good spin class or dance class, or sign me up for a 5K any day. If I am going to be exercising, I want to be breathing hard, sweating, and probably wondering if I am going to make it. But stretching myself, finding balance, and taking a moment of stillness? That sounds like hard work.

But, I fell in love with a dance class—and a community—and yoga came with it. And so,several days a week, I found myself closing my eyes, breathing deeply and finally giving in. “Take a breath. Let it travel through your body. And, just when you think your lungs are full—sip a little more air. And then a little more. Hold the breath, and in this space: Set an intention for your practice.” Yeah, right. Can’t we just start dancing?!

Let your mind go. Breathe deeply.

Somewhere along the way, though, I noticed that my experience in those opening moments shifted. I stopped rolling my eyes, and started closing them. I stopped smirking, and started breathing. And I began to set an intention—sometimes an inward reflection. At first, my intentions were solely fitness-based: Lose weight. Get in shape. Tone my arms.

But as those physical changes actually did start to happen, I noticed that my intentions grew more expansive, if still totally embodied: Love my shape. Celebrate my body’s abilities.

Then, my intentions grew wider, more integral to the life that I was living. Sometimes a specific goal. Sometimes a one word plan: Hope. Contentment. Focus. And my dance became more than just a way to work out.

Sadly, I had to leave my studio behind. But I often hear my teachers’ words when I embark on a new project, a new endeavor. And they came right back to me as I began Daf Yomi a few weeks ago. While I am not sure I will be able to finish it, I have—for the time—committed to studying a daf (two pages) of Talmud every day…for 7.5 years. And I thought to myself—I better set an intention. And so I did. One of discpline, of learning lishmah (for its own sake, and of rejoining a conversation I think desperately needs our liberal, female voices.

The Talmud begins with a discussion of the recitation of the Shema. After a thorough discussion of when to recite Shema, the rabbis begin to ask how we recite Shema. The case that they bring is of someone who is engaged in Torah study of some sort of another—even studying the verses that contain the words of the Shema—when the time arrives for the recitation of Shema. What, they ask, is he to do? The rabbis teach that if he directs his heart towards the recitation of the Shema, he (or she, I suppose!) has fulfilled the obligation to recite the Shema.

The word for “direction” here is kavannah. While it is often used to describe the parts of the prayer service that happen organically, in contrast to the fixed liturgical pieces, it more correctly means “intention.” It means your internal compass is focused, directed, on what you are doing—or what you hope to do.

And the Gemara continues with one short, weighty statement: Mitzvot require kavannah. To engage in the significant acts of Jewish life, it is not enough to do so woodenly, robotically, without deep thought and commitment.

As Elul begins, we are asked to take spiritual stock, to reflect on the year that was—to consider who we have been and what we have done. And this “inventory” we are asked to take should inform who want to become and the steps we’ll take to get there.

So, I invite you to sit. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Breathe in a little more. And set an intention for your practice.

Rabbi Sari Laufer is the Associate Rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City. She also blogs at, and is Tweeting #DafYomi @rabbilaufer