Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Since moving to Mississippi two years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on fitness and nutrition—and I’ve become really active with CrossFit. That might not sound super Jewish… but it is. Here’s why.
Many people assume that people only go to the gym and work out for the physical: to look good. But I attend the gym to help elevate my mind and grow as a person. I am known for making anything I do “a Jewish moment”—so of course that has to apply to my fitness routine. I wanted to connect the things that I learn at the gym to the values that one must learn to respect themselves and others, which led me to Middot.
A Middah, or Middot in the plural, is a measure or norm of Jewish characteristics, traits, and virtues. The Middot comes from the Mussar movement and is mentioned in Pirkei Avot 6:6. These virtues are made so that we can balance our lives and ourselves to create a state of peace and balance in our interactions with God, others, and the world.
Here are the top 5 Middot I have learned from my CrossFit hobby:
Trust in the Sages – Middah Emunat Chachamim
At CrossFit, the sages are the coaches. Every time I walk in the door, I am greeted by a coach who has a great attitude and brings out my confidence. The coaches lead the class, and I trust them to know what I can do and how much I can achieve. I trust that they know the proper techniques to teach me. Trust is a value that we have to learn, as not everyone is trustworthy, but with my coaches’ help, I am learning who I can trust – including myself.
Asking and Answering – Middah Shoayl U’Mayshiv
This value might be the most indirect Middah connection I have made, but it is definitely the most important. At the gym, I ask a plethora of questions to make sure I am doing everything correctly. At first, I was afraid to ask questions and step up out of my comfort zone to say I did not understand. Through the connection of this Middah, I have learned that it is okay to ask for help. I do not know everything when it comes to the gym and all the movements, but that is the whole point. Learning through questions only makes us stronger, and now when I have a question in my job or life, I know it’s ok to ask for help.
To Learn by Repetition – Middah Mishnah
Although the workout is different every day, we consistently do the same movements. One day we might do one hundred push-ups throughout a workout, and then the next day, we do 25 bench presses. My favorite exercise is the slow progress of repetitions throughout weeks to slowly build and grow our muscles to hit new personal bests. Although repeating actions is a bit tedious, I find those days to be the best for mental growth because you have to tell your mind that your body can do it.
Acceptance of Suffering – Middah Kabbalat HaYisurin
This one needs no explanation. CrossFit is all about finding your limits and working hard to overcome and achieve your excellence. The best workouts we do have us on the floor with exhaustion. Most of the time, I see the workout the night before, know it’s going to be hard— and still choose to go to the gym. I have learned to accept the fact that I will suffer, but in the end, I leave the gym feeling better about myself even though my muscles are screaming as I walk out the door. It is a constant reminder of all the hard work I am putting into myself to live a better, more balanced life.
Slowness to Anger – Middah Erech Apayim
The final value is all about patience. At least once a class, I fail. In those moments of missing a goal or needing to stop what I’m doing, I can either give up and get upset—or I can take a deep breath and try again. I choose the deep breath. I have to appreciate the good things in my life and recover to get stronger in the future. This idea has impacted my day-to-day life and work-life through the value of patience. I now remember that I can succeed and try again to get things right, even if they are hard.