For several years, we did not have a single shul
building in our neighborhood. People davened and
learned in caravans and bomb shelters.
Finally, a building was constructed. First the outer shell
was completed, along with floors and walls to partition the
inside. Then the interior was finished and furnished. At
last, we had a fitting place for our community to serve
For lack of funds, the exterior of the building remained
unfinished -- a gray concrete shell. "Someday," everyone
said, "we are going to do something about this."
But somehow, `someday' was slow in coming. That is, until our
congregation received a very official looking letter from the
city reminding us, quite firmly, that every Jerusalem
building must have a stone facing.
A contractor was hired and two long, tedious projects were
launched. One was the fund raising and the second was the
application of the stone. To facilitate the latter, a large
number of long vertical metal poles and dozens of horizontal
wooden planks were put in place to serve as scaffolds. These
platforms encircled the building, enabling the workers to
reach all parts of the walls.
It seemed as though the work went on forever, but actually,
it took about two years. During that period, when we wanted
to give directions to our street, we would tell people to
look out the bus window until they saw a large gray building
enclosed in scaffolding and then get off at the next stop.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the last stone was set in
place, the surface area was touched up and lo and behold! The
facade of the shul was finished! The next day the
workers came back and dismantled the scaffolding.
Neighbors stood on the sidewalk and watched. Everyone was
thrilled. We could finally see the completed building, which
is beautiful. But I shouldn't really say that everyone
There were a few young children who looked worried as the
work progressed. These three- and four-year-olds had been
very young when the scaffolding had been erected. To them,
the poles and boards were the outside of the
shul. They thought that these were holding up the
building and now, all of a sudden, they were being taken
away. It was frightening as well as confusing.
The mothers had to explain that the scaffolds were only
necessarty for the workers to use in putting up the stones.
Now that we had all of the stone that we needed, the poles
and boards could be taken away to use at another construction
site. The real structure of the building was the concrete
shell that was no longer visible behind the stone.
We can all learn something from the children's error. We
ourselves look at so many externals as though they were
important parts of whatever lies within.
The primary example is the body which the Ribono Shel Olom
has given each of us to enclose our neshoma during its
sojourn in this world. Just as the scaffolding enabled the
workers to do their job, so does the body facilitate our
performance of mitzvos.
Our hands can prepare the food that we give to our families,
sort the clothing that we distribute at our gemachim,
bring a cup of tea to a sick person and record on paper our
Torah thoughts. Our feet carry us to shul, to collect
tzedoka and to a house of mourning to comfort the
bereaved. We use our entire bodies to sit in a succa,
to immerse in a mikve and to dwell in Eretz
The body hopefully lasts longer than the scaffolding, but it,
too, is only temporary. The soul, like the shul inside
the scaffolding, is what really counts.
What if someone had come to any of us during the two years of
construction and said, "I have a great idea. The scaffolding
doesn't look as nice as it could. Let's spend our mornings
working on it. We can polish the poles and apply rich oils
and varnish to the wooden boards to make them shine. Just
think: we can have the nicest looking scaffolds in town."
Of course, we would laugh and walk away. But currently, we
are being bombarded with ads for gyms and other physical
fitness centers. Our ancestors kept fit by walking. It wasn't
their choice -- there were no cars, buses, taxis and subways.
If you wanted to get somewhere and you didn't have a horse
and wagon, you walked.
Today we have a real problem keeping our weight down. Obesity
is a rampant disease. As we add to our midsections, we also
increase our chances of developing diabetes, heart disease
and other serious health problems.
That's where the fitness center comes in. Spend a few
mornings/afternoons a week working out and you can either
drop a few pounds, take your belt size in a couple of notches
or both. It is very tempting.
How did the pounds roll on? By overeating, of course, Our
ancestors couldn't go into a neighborhood store and pick up a
liter of ice cream, a box of chocolate chip cookies and a
bottle of cola. They didn't have access to half a dozen types
of puddings, with or without whipped cream, in little plastic
cups, Bamba, potato chips or candy bars.
Their homemade goodies didn't have as many calories and they
weren't served daily. I remember as a child, on special
occasions, we would come into the house and be greeted by a
wonderful smell. My grandmother had baked that day. Poppy
seed cookies. One cookie, not a bagful, was a special treat
to be savored.
We wouldn't have to spend all of the time it takes to travel
to a gym, to use all the fitness machines, and to return
home, if only we could learn to do one simple exercise: sit
and eat a meal, bentsh and push yourself away from the
table before you are full and certainly before dessert is
Also, if you are doing a relatively short errand such as
going to the post office to pick up a package, forget the
bus. Pretend you are one of your ancestors and walk.
The ads for the fitness centers tell us that their programs
accomplish more than just weight control. They `sculpt' the
body. That is about as necessary as oiling the boards of the
scaffolding. Trust me. After a hundred and twenty plus,
sculpted bodies will return to the dust exactly the same way
as everyone else's will.
While the shul was being completed, the contractor
would come around periodically and spend a few minutes
checking on the scaffolding to make sure it was adequate for
Let's maintain our bodies by proper diet, adequate rest,
walking (swimming) and regular health checkups. And IY"H,
these will serve us well for many years to come.
Then we can spend our days on our important work -- the
performance of mitzvos.