This post is not sponsored by Apple.

  1. Fitness First – This year will be different

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In his book, “Orot Ha’Teshuvah,” Rav Kook explains that:

“When one forgets the essence of one’s soul; when one distracts his mind from seeing the true nature of his own inner life, everything becomes doubtful and confused. The principle Teshuvah, which immediately lights up the darkness, is for a person to return to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to G-d, to the Souls of all souls. And he will continue to stride higher and higher in holiness and purity. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence.”

In his explanation of the Teshuvah process, Rav Kook outlines the various stages involved in this ‘return to himself’. I was surprised to learn that the first step on the way to Teshuvah is getting one’s body into physical shape! Rav Kook calls this ‘Teshuvah of the body’.

To return to a state of inner harmony and Divine connection, a person must first have a healthy body.

Health tracking and digital fitness have now become mainstream, the worlds brightest and best are putting their minds together to help people live healthier lives. There are so many products to choose from at all price points and some insurance companies are even offering rewards and incentives to keep fit. I have been really impressed with the latest Apple Watch, it is fun, intuitive and genuinely useful. In addition to fun watch faces, games and discrete notification alerts from your phone during the day, you also get reminders to stand up during the day, updates on your daily movement/exercise goals and achievements, you can track your calories burnt, heart rate, hydration and a whole plethora of third party devices that can measure your blood glucose to arterial stiffness. If every year you have promised yourself to get fitter, live a little better, perhaps this year really is the year to make a difference, with a little digital help, and perhaps you can tick off box number one on Rav Kook’s Teshuvah plan.

  1. Breathe – We are all Buddhists now!

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Someone lent me a really fascinating book recently called ‘One God Clapping – The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi’. It describes the life journey of Rabbi Alan Lew from Eastern philosophy to Judaism and his integration of the two leading him to form a Jewish meditation movement. From reading the popular Kabbalistic works of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (specifically Jewish Meditation) it is clear that we have lost touch with a method of relating to God that was common place in the times of the Temple and even earlier than this we find references to meditation by the Forefathers. The tefillah service we have today is not set up to facilitate this original spiritual practice, and for those looking for something transcendental unfortunately it is not to be found in a contemporary Beit HaKnesset.

How can Apple Watch help with tefillah? Apple Watch wants to bring breathing exercises – the cornerstone of meditation – to everyone. This clever app reminds you at various intervals during the day to take a minute out to focus on your breathe and to inhale and exhale in tandem with the graphic of a flower  expanding and contracting as well as vibrations tickling your arm if you are closing your eyes. For those suffering from stress this may provide that time out relief to help get them through the day. For those looking to improve their tefillah, I would recommend running a ‘Breathe’ session on the Apple Watch before each tefillah (before the Amidah prayer). It is fully programmable in lengths of 1-5 minutes, how many times per day you wish to do it and as you progress you can adjust how many breathes per minute (7 is default). It’s a small start, but I believe this may just change the way you pray – today!

  1. Humility – ‘be exceedingly humble’

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We read on Rosh Hashanah about the naming of Yitzchak which means ‘he will laugh’. What relevance has laughter to do with Rosh Hashanah? Rav Matis Weinberg explains that this laughter is the laugher of the ultimate unexpected – existence itself. Why is there existence at all? On Rosh Hashanah, we commemorate the conception of the world (the birth is considered to be in Nissan where we also celebrate the new year –  for months). The reality of finite existence compared to the Infinite will always remain a paradox. This thought should bring us ‘down to earth’ and help us with the difficult task of humbling ourselves before the King of Kings as we weigh up our deeds before the day of judgement.

Humility is one of the character traits we are told to be extremists about, to be very humble, it is the trait Moshe Rabbeinu is praised for directly in the Chumash – yet it is also the most elusive.

I have always found the study of the stars and astronomy to be immensely helpful when it comes to humility. One of the most fun elements of the Apple Watch are the incredible Watch Faces, Mickey Mouse is a personal favourite however there is one (image above) that really blew me away. It starts off with a green dot marking your current GPS location on the globe, which you can rotate in 3D on its axis to see what the rest of the world looks like right now (night/day). You can also turn the dial on the watch to see how the sun moves around the earth over the course of the next 24hrs. You can then click on the moon, rotate to see the surface of the moon and turn the watch dial to see the movements of the moon over the coming month (new moon is Friday apparently). You can then click on the solar system and turn the dial to see how all the planets rotate around the sun over the course of the year; the watch face then ends with a listing of the planets. Here on my wrist is a daily reminder of how small we are compared to the solar system let alone the universe, if we meditate on this each day then perhaps the world will have a little less hot air floating about causing catastrophe.

Wishing you all a very sweet Shana Tova