We are all familiar with the statement of Chazal that finding one’s shidduch is as difficult as splitting the Yam Suf (Red Sea) (Sanhedrin 22a). A similar statement is made about parnassa (livelihood) (Pesachim 118a). I recently heard an interesting explanation of this that has relevance for eating issues as well.
The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation distributes a set of CDs on emuna (faith) that have a collection of Rabbi David Ashear’s short talks on this topic. Rabbi Ashear attributes the following understanding to Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk of Gateshead.
What is the difference between splitting the sea and splitting a thick wood board, for example? Once the board is split, it stays split and has no tendency to come back together. However, when water is split, as great as that miracle is, constant effort is required to keep the water split. There is a natural tendency for the water to recombine that has to be combated.
Rabbi Ashear explains that this is an apt metaphor for finding a shidduch. Finding one’s mate can certainly be very difficult. But the effort does not end there. One has to work on the relationship to attain a good marriage, and the effort continues throughout life. Similarly, getting a job is only the beginning; one has to continue in one’s efforts. For both of these life necessities, continued emuna and praying to Hashem is necessary to sustain the flow of good from Hashem.
When I heard this metaphor, I realized that this is a wonderful way to think about losing weight and eating right. Yes, the initial phase of losing weight and achieving a healthy status requires major work, like splitting the sea. But unless there is continual effort, the weight will gradually come back on by itself. This may be in part due to returning to previous eating habits. Alternatively, there is a notion of a “set point,” a body weight that your system feels should be the norm (which may even be in the obese category, if that is where you’ve spent a good part of your life). Your body, through as yet not fully understood processes, is driven to get you to eat more and return to the earlier weight. A third possibility is that the reduction in the metabolic rate, due to the lower necessities of your new smaller size or to a preservative mechanism that thinks it has to conserve energy since the input of food has lessened, may result in your daily calorie requirements becoming less, leading to weight gain if you don’t reduce caloric intake. The process of water recombining is a natural process that we have to fight on an ongoing basis.
In the general category of mitzvos, we can think of the need to “rise above” nature to sustain a certain level as a need to fight mitzvos anashim m’lumada, the way the prophet Yeshayu describes doing mitzvos by rote. We have to rise above this. In modern parlance, we have to be mindful of what we do, keep the goal in mind, and not just let ourselves function on autopilot. How much better would all facets of our life be if we put in sustained effort to preserve our accomplishments rather than letting them dissipate because of our inaction.
Janet Sunness is medical director of the Richard E. Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She gives shiurim on a variety of topics at Congregation Shomrei Emunah and for the Women’s Institute of Torah. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. © Janet Sunness 2016