All this exercising brought back memories from when I first started to seriously get into exercising back in my senior year of high school. I bought one of those 'all in one' machines that could be used to work every muscle in the body and yet it was fairly compact and didn't take up a significant amount of space. The most interesting aspect was that the machine didn't have any actual weights. Yes you heard me (or rather read me?). No weights at all. That is one of the ways that the machine was able to remain so light and easy to move around. You see, the machine worked on a tension system. The harder you pushed or pulled, the more resistance the machine gave.
For example, let's say you were doing bench press. If you pushed up without much effort, the resistance the machine gave was commensurate with the energy you were putting into the exercise, so it was fairly easy. I found this to be just about the coolest thing I had ever seen. So for a while, I would try to trick the machine. I would start out pushing really slow and then all of a sudden BOOM I would push really hard. You know, just to see if the machine was really able to respond correctly. And you know what? It did. All of a sudden it became super difficult to push and I had to lower the bar back down, or risk tearing a muscle.
Once I was finished with my attempts to fool the machine I began to develop a regular exercise routine. Then, every few weeks once the repetitions became too easy, I would slowly increase my force. Still, here and there I would become overzealous and in my haste I would push too hard and too fast. Although I was able to do several exercises like that it always ended up setting me back a day or two as I ended up being sore and my muscles over worked. It was simply too much too fast.
These days, having more life experience and a greater knowledge of exercise, I know that it is of utmost importance to slowly increase with long lasting results; rather than rapidly adding on too quickly and having to take a day or two off.
You know what? Believe it or not, exercising is pretty similar to Judaism, specifically the way we engage in Torah and mitzvahs. There is nothing more beautiful nor more satisfying than learning Torah and doing mitzvahs, and yet, too much too quickly can actually leave a person feeling stifled, staggered, and worn out.
The ultimate goal is to spend any extra time we have learning Torah and doing all the mitzvahs that are applicable to us. However, we need to make sure that the force we apply in learning and doing more mitzvahs doesn't create a resistance that is too much for us to take. The best way is to grow slowly and steadily, only taking on more once we feel comfortable in what we are doing. Then we can stretch ourselves just a little bit further and begin to add to our routine.
There is often the temptation to buy the protein shakes which promise rapid weight loss and long lasting health benefits, or the amazing new exercise machine which only requires two and a half minutes of exercise every other day that will have you in the best shape of your life in less than two weeks. But the truth is that they are nothing more than gimmicks; short cuts which lead you very quickly nowhere fast. The only way to achieve long lasting results is through consistency, hard work, and the slow and steady increase necessary to build long lasting capacity.
Judaism is no different. There are no magic learning pills or one minute mitzvah machines. In fact, the surest way (and only way) to exercise your soul is to take on one mitzvah at a time. And similar to exercising it is always beneficial to consult a professional trainer (Rabbi, Rebbitzen, mentor, or close friend) who can help advise you in your spiritual exercise.
As for me; not only has my back pain disappeared and my health improved, I have strengthened my Judaism as well. I am exercising my soul with a daily dose of Tehillim, Chumash, and Tanya. In fact, I think I'm just about ready to add some more reps to my spiritual training!
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Nuta Yisrael Shurack