April 20, 2024
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Post-Purim Weight Loss Insights

Believe it or not, the secret of weight loss can be found in Megillat Esther, especially in light of an insightful thought from Hazal.

The Gemara (Hullin 139b) compares Haman’s persecution of the Jews to Adam and Havah’s eating from the Eitz HaDa’at. While these two Aveirot seem at first glance to share little in common, a deeper examination reveals a profound connection. Hashem explicitly permitted Adam and Havah to eat from every tree in Gan Eden, save for the tree of knowledge. Hashem simply wishes Adam and Havah to exercise a very modest degree of restraint, for them to leave a space for Hashem in their lives. This small demand was entirely fair, considering that Hashem restrained Himself, so to speak, in order to create the world. The Kabbalah teaches that Hashem engaged in Tzimtzum, limiting his infinite nature, to allow space for our world to be created. The fundamental failure of Adam and Havah partaking from the forbidden fruit was their lack of restraint and unwillingness to allow space for Hashem in their lives. This failure to manage their behavior, in turn, resulted in their banishment from paradise.

Similarly, Haman’s failure to contain himself resulted in his destruction. Haman was not satisfied with everyone in Achashverosh’s empire bowing to him. Instead he drastically overreacted to one person’s refusal to bow to him. Had Haman contained himself and exercised just a modicum of self-control he would have avoided his premature death. The common denominator between the downfalls of Haman and that of Adam and Havah is the tragic consequences of failure to exercise minimal self-control.

Mordechai, on the other other, is a model of self-control. He refrains from succumbing to social pressures to bow to Haman. Mordechai is eventually amply rewarded for exercising self-control. The aforementioned Gemara links Mordechai to one of the ingredients of the Shemen HaMishha recorded in the Torah in Parashat Ki Tisa, Mor Deror. Mor Deror sounds somewhat like Mordechai, and its Aramaic equivalent, Meira Dachya, is an even closer match.

What might Hazal be seeking to convey in what seems like a most tenuous connection between Mordechai and Mor Deror? Focusing on the meaning of the words Mor Deror might resolve our quandary. These words literally mean bitter freedom, which is exactly the message conveyed by Mordechai’s behavior. Mordechai was willing to endure the bitter short-term consequences of his refusal to bow to Haman in order to reap the long-term benefits. In other words, Mor Deror refers to delayed gratification, the exchange of short-term bitterness for long-term freedom.

Mordechai sought to stem the tide of the Jewish assimilation into Persian society (as expressed in the Gemara, Megillah 12a) by taking the dramatic and dangerous step of refusing to yield to the demand that he compromise Torah values and bow to Haman. By taking such a dramatic and courageous step, Mordechai set a model for Jewish pride and identity. He thereby saved the Jewish People from dilution in the sea of Persian culture and was himself richly rewarded for his brave action—bitter freedom indeed.

Now to the secret to weight loss. In most cases, the road to significant weight loss is to consistently bear in mind Mordechai’s motto of Mor Deror, delayed gratification. When we partake in too much food or the wrong type of food, we are following in the footsteps of Adam and Havah, whose failure to restrain themselves lead to negative consequences. Successful and sustained weight loss can be achieved by remembering the message Mor Deror. It may be bitter to refrain from the tempting foods frequently paraded before us, but true freedom is achieved when we do so.

We observant Jews should find it relatively easy to modify our eating habits and lose weight. Our Halachic observance trains us to exercise restraint in every aspect of our lives. Maintaining an appropriate body weight is a Torah imperative. Every observant Jew has the tools to enable him or her to shed excess poundage. All we need to do is bear the lesson of Mordechai and we will succeed. When tempted, we need only remember two words, Mor Deror. It is bitter in the short term to refrain from unhealthy food or excessive eating. However, long-term freedom from being overweight is well worth enduring short-term bitterness.

Acknowledgement—I thank the congregants of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, for helping develop the ideas that appear in this essay.

By Rabbi Haim (Howard) Jachter

Rabbi Haim (Howard) Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.

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