Tadhg Cleary

On Weight Loss and Teshuva

Parashat Nitzvim may reveal a deep connection between weight loss and Teshuva.

Noom is a weight loss program which claims to be built on well-researched psychological principles. It requires no crash diets, no carb counting, no extreme exercise regimen. In fact, on Noom, all you have to do is scrupulously record everything you eat on their app. The app categories those choices, indicating whether eating this kind of food a lot will help you achieve your goal weight.

The notion is astoundingly simple—if you are motivated to lose weight and you merely pay attention to what you are eating, you will end up making better choices, more in line with your health goals. 

This is a revolution in the diet and weight loss industry. If weight loss is a war on food—or worse, a battle against ourselves—it takes immense will-power over a sustained period to reach the goal. Even when the war is won, we are likely to slowly lose those gains over time—you can’t keep fighting forever. 

Noom says something different: we already have everything we need for lasting change right inside us. Deep down, we know what we really want, what is really good for us. On the whole, if given all the information, we will make choices that are better for us—maybe not every time, but most of the time. All we need to do is pay attention.

This is the deep message about personal change recorded in Parashat Nitzavim too (Dev. 30:11-14):

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא: לא בשמים הוא … ולא מעבר לים הוא … כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשתו: ס

For this commandment that I instruct you today is not obscured from you, it is not far away. It is not in the heavens … Nor is it over the sea … for it is very close to you indeed, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.

According to Ramban—Nachmanides—the “commandment” referred to here is the Mitzvah of Teshuva—personal growth and change. 

The Torah is telling us something incredibly powerful. Being a good person, a good Jew, an Eved Hashem, is not an unceasing, unrelenting war against ourselves. It’s actually something deeply intuitive, deeply ingrained into our very being. As the late Rabbi Sacks once put it, “there is a deep congruence between the life we are called on to lead (revelation) and the universe we are called on to live it in (creation).” 

Deep down, we know what is right and good—sometimes all we need is to pay a little more attention. 

I’m making this sound easy—but I know it’s not. So much of our lives is lived on auto-pilot. One day flows into the next, each week into the next, until the months and years feel as though they are slipping through our fingers—where does it all go? 

According to Rambam—Maimonides—this is the point of the Shofar (Teshuva 3:4):

כלומר עורו ישינים משנתכם! 

[The Shofar blast calls to us] saying: “awake sleepers from your sleep, slumberers snap out from your slumber … those who forget the true path because of the humdrum of daily life, and whittle away all their year with drivel and emptiness … look inwards and better your ways”

What an opportunity this time of year affords us—a time to slow down, a time to take stock, a time to attend. To attend to ourselves, and how we show up in the different arenas of our lives. Are we living in the ways that deep down we know we should be?

Maybe we can learn something from Noom. Maybe this year, we can keep a log—even just for the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Carve out some time to reflect on one relationship, one interaction—am I fully present? Am I attending to them and to myself in those moments? In our religious lives as well—in Torah, in Tefillah, in Tzedaka, and more.

As we continue to hear the Shofar’s reverberating blast, let its call remind us – Ki Karov Aleicha HaDavar Meod – you already have all the ingredients for personal growth and change right there within you, maybe all that’s needed is to pay a little more attention.

Shabbat Shalom!

**I am indebted to a Dvar Torah from Rabbi Linzer which fleshed out many of these ideas**

This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.

About the Author
Tadhg Cleary (he/him) divided the last ten years between New Zealand and Israel - learning, teaching, and building Jewish community. An alumnus of Victoria University and Yeshivat Har Etzion, he is in his second year of Semicha studies at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Tadhg also loves wearing hats, honest physical labour, and defending Constitutional monarchy to his (very skeptical) American friends.
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