Confronting Our Spiritual Excess


naphtali-hoffBy Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

The obesity crisis in the United States is killing us and our health care budgets, too. If you are obese and have unhealthy eating or activity habits, you have a higher risk for gallstones, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, coronary artery disease (CAD), a stroke, and sleep apnea, among other conditions.

Obesity and its correlated health problems have also had a significant economic impact on the U.S. healthcare system, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Direct medical costs include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services. Indirect costs relate to morbidity (the value of income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, and bed days) and mortality costs (the value of future income lost by premature death).

A few years ago I had the distinct privilege of attending an address delivered at the Torah Umesorah convention by the Novominsker Rebbe. His topic was a spiritual form of obesity (my wording, not his) that is confronting and confounding our nation.

Rav Perlow spoke about the incredible transition that the Jewish people have witnessed – in the United States and in Eretz Yisrael – over the past sixty five years. Following the Holocaust, Orthodoxy was in shambles. So many Torah leaders and religious brethren had perished; families and entire communities were ravaged. The new centers of frum life were shells of their vibrant European forebears, with no real prospects for a physical and spiritual renaissance. The challenge at that time and in the decades that followed was to rebuild Torah, to persuade the broader Jewish community that a Torah life was as relevant and purposeful in the New Country as it had been in their former homes.

Fast forward sixty five years. We have witnessed a rebirth of Torah Judaism, with proud, vibrant communities in both countries (and in many other countries worldwide). We can list with great satisfaction our many achievements in advancing the cause of Torah, and would undoubtedly start with the countless mosdos chinuch and chesed that we have founded and nurtured. According to the Rebbe, our challenge is to not take these for granted, while also maintaining high levels of emunah, bitachon and yiras shamayim that were exhibited by our parents and grandparents.

While he did not express this explicitly, it was my understanding from Rav Perlow that deficiencies in these latter areas stem primarily from the “ready made” Jewish world that we were born and raised in. For most of us, a Torah existence came easily; few struggled in any meaningful way to access it and benefit from it. But much in the same way that physical inertia correlates strongly with obesity, the absence of spiritual exertion can also result in a dearth of religious resilience, an inability to overcome challenges, such as spiritual shallowness or deficits in personal self-discipline.


And Yeshurun became fat and rebelled; you grew fat, thick and rotund; [Israel] forsook the G-d Who made them, and spurned the [Mighty] Rock of their salvation. (Devarim 32:15)


Today, particularly due to the internet’s incessant spiritual assault, we are susceptible to new challenges as Torah Jews, usually not in an overt sense, but in a way that gnaws at our inner sense of self.

This week’s parasha speaks to these challenges. The juxtaposition of nazir to sotah is seen by the gemara as a way of conveying a fundamental message. We are susceptible to what we see, particularly when it involves raw debasement. Our first response in such an instance is to separate ourselves from the lewdness that surrounds us.


Why is the section dealing with the nazirite juxtaposed to the section of the adulterous woman? To tell us whoever sees an adulteress in her disgrace should vow to abstain from wine, for it leads to adultery. (Rashi to Bamidbar 6:2, quoting Sotah 2a)that


But that is not enough. Immediately after the description of the nazir, the Torah records the priestly blessings. According to Kli Yakar, the proximity of these two concepts conveys a message that true blessing is not something that only benefits oneself (as symbolizes through personal wine consumption) but helps others as well. If we are to properly survive our present challenge, we cannot simply run away. Rather, we will need to offer one another continued support and encouragement. We must recognize that all of us are suffering through this spiritual malady together, and need to rally around a common banner if we are to emerge victorious.

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting ( He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at

{ Newscenter}


  1. Blame everything on the internet and such! It has nothing to do with jews copying american superficiality and claiming it as religion? In lita a bar mitzah maybe maybe had a kiddush. A wedding celebration would look like poverty to us. No uniformed dress code. And always looked presentable becuase otherwise we would look like fools to the goyim. Whereas today bar mitzvahs cost a mini fortune weddings moreso. Today there is a uniformed dress code and a ton of jews manage to look shlumpy. Go look at pictures of the shtetl bochrim looked presentable and most of them couldn’t afford to eat.