I used to make the same New Year’s resolutions every year:
1. Do yoga (I’m a runner) 2. Eat more vegetables (I’m a carnivore) 3. Take a daily multi-vitamin (See #2) 4. Eat less cheese (I’m lactose intolerant) 5. Be nicer to my sister (I’m insufferable) 6. Stop taking myself so seriously (I’m going to be a rabbi.)
But when I got to rabbinical school, my list of resolutions started to seem a bit too superficial for Rosh Hashanah. Instead of pious spiritual aspirations, I was trying to frequent the produce section. I tried to make my Rosh Hashanah resolutions more metaphysical, but I missed my seasonal yoga classes and greens. I missed them a lot.
So I was thrilled when I discovered that Rav Kook, a hero of most contemporary rabbis, once wrote that the beginning of any attempt at Teshuva (repentance) is eating well. Kook claimed that human beings are born naturally good and only become corrupted over time. Repenting, he said, means getting back to who we really are, which starts on a physical level. So in the spirit of Rav Kook, here are a few ways to get your Teshuva on.
Make Rosh Hashanah dinner a part of your day-to-day life by eating more tzimmes and cholent. Cooked carrots are 34% higher in antioxidants than raw carrots and the antioxidants continue to increase if the carrots are kept at high temperature for a long time—up to a week. (Published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by Luke Howard PhD, Professor of Food Science at the University of Arkansas). Check out this tzimmes recipe, or try Pickled’s less-sweet version. For an extra health boost, vegetarian cholent packs a hearty punch. And thank your grandma—she knew what was good for you.
Spend more time at Congregation Beth Elohim and live three years longer In studies published by The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, researchers found that the social interaction and community provided by regular attendance at shul (or church) may add an extra two to three years to your life. Don’t belong to a synagogue? The Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements all have search engines that allow you to research local options. Just attending on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur doesn’t count, though; it’s hard to find community in a group of people you only see twice a year. Instead, start by regularly attending an adult ed class or doing volunteer work. Then, when you come back for Shabbat, you’ll find enough friendly faces to feel instantly at home.
Who needs Lipitor when you can just accept your sister’s apology? Forgive yourself. Forgive your parents. Forgive Joey Hershberger for not inviting you to his Bar Mitzvah in 7th grade. In the spirit of the season, and as your rabbi has been telling you for years, get over it. Frederick Luskin, a psychologist who works at Stanford University’s Forgiveness Project —the largest research project in the country exploring the physical effects of forgiveness—has proven that persistent unresolved anger can lead to higher blood pressure, cholesterol and stress levels, so letting go is good for your health. It’s also mitzvah, of course, and it only takes nine easy steps.
Ward off Alzheimer’s with the Aleph-Bet Dementia occurs later in bilingual folks: a study in the Journal of Neuropsychologia found that Alzheimer’s and other dementias set in four years later in patients who spoke more than one language. No other factor—culture, gender, immigration, education, employment—made nearly as much of a difference, so get your Hebrew on by enrolling in an ulpan or taking adult education classes. (The National Center for the Hebrew Language has a marketplace selling all the tools you need to keep your brain sharp.)
Swap white rice for brown rice in your stir-fry. Brown rice is lower in carbs and higher in fiber than white rice. It also has more vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and over a dozen other nutrients. And it’s better for the environment—brown rice is less processed than white rice, so it takes less energy to produce. So go ahead. Buy a rice cooker (you can find a variety here.) Dump in two cups of rice, water, and a pinch of salt. Press the button. Wait 45 minutes. Eat. Feel self-righteous. You’ve now done a mitzvah for your body. And if you’re Sephardic, you’ve just doubled what you can eat on Passover.