Stay Healthy, Walk to Synagogue

Additional health-related issues: Better to throw out leftover food, than to harm one’s body * Having a set place in synagogue contributes to the stability of a person’s spiritual world, and prolongs his life * A person is rewarded for every step taken while walking to synagogue, even if there is a closer synagogue – provided there is a good reason to prefer the more distant synagogue * Women are also rewarded for every step * Modern man is extremely sedentary, and does not walk enough; prayer and Torah classes are an opportunity to walk for good health * An additional point regarding prayer: It is preferable to pray an abbreviated Mincha, than for people to forgo prayer in a minyan

To Finish one’s Food, or to throw it away – ‘Bal Tashchit’

Q: “Sometimes when I eat I feel full, but since there is more food left on my plate, I usually eat it instead of throwing it out. The question is: in such a situation is one permitted to throw out the food, or as our parents taught us, it is forbidden to throw away food due to the prohibition of ‘bal tashchit’ (“do not destroy”)?

A: It is preferable to throw out the unnecessary food, and not finish it. True, it is forbidden destroy a fruit tree, and from this we learned that it is forbidden to destroy any type of food (Sifre, D’varim 20:19), but as our Sages said: “You shall not destroy, as applied to one’s own person, is preferable” (Shabbat 140b). In other words, worrying about destroying one’s body comes before worrying about destroying food. Indeed, in times of poverty, it was preferable for a person to eat whatever he was served in order to accrue reserves for scarce times; subsequently, people used to be careful to finish all the food on their plate. Today, however, when even the poorest people suffer more from obesity than hunger, it is preferable to throw out the unnecessary food.

Ideally, of course, one should be careful not overload his plate beyond what he is able to eat, to avoid having to then throw out leftover food. In a similar vein, we have learned that one should be careful not to do things that will cause food to be destroyed, thus, one should not pass a full glass of liquid over bread lest it spill, and cause the bread to become repugnant and inedible (Berachot 40b; S. A., O.C. 171:1).

Walking to Synagogue Adds Life

Our Sages said: “Whoever has a synagogue in his town and does not go there in order to pray, is called an evil neighbor. As it is written: ‘Thus says the Lord, as for all My evil neighbors, that touch the inheritance which I have caused My people Israel to inherit.’ Moreover, such a person brings exile upon himself and his children. For it is said: ‘Behold, I will pluck them up from off their land, and will pluck up the house of Judah from among them” (Berachot 8a). This law was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 90:11).

The Talmud further relates that initially, when Rabbi Yochanan heard that there were Jews who lived long lives in Babylon, he was astonished – after all, it is written (Deuteronomy 11:21): ‘That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land’ – but not outside the land of Israel! When they told him the elders came early to synagogue and left late, he said: “That is what helps them live long.”

Man’s existence depends on his connection to the Source of Life, and therefore our Sages said: “Whoever assigns a set place to pray, the God of Avraham helps him, and his enemies fall beneath him” (Berachot 6b). The designation of a place of prayer illustrates that one’s connection to Hashem is absolute. Everything else in the world can change, but one’s connection to Hashem is the most permanent and stable reality and should therefore transpire in a permanent place. On the other hand, when one does not go to the synagogue in his neighborhood, he disconnects from the Source of Life, loses his roots, and thus, causes exile for himself and his sons.

Preferring a Distant Synagogue

The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) wrote that if a person has the possibility of going to two synagogues in his community – it is a mitzvah to go to the one further away, for he is rewarded for every step he takes on his way to synagogue (in Hebrew, ‘sekhar pisi’ot’).

The source for this stems from the words of Rabbi Yochanan (Sotah 22a), who said: “We learned confidence in the bestowal of reward from a widow”, because despite there being a synagogue in her neighborhood, she would go to pray every day at the Beit Midrash (learning hall) of Rabbi Yochanan. Rabbi Yochanan said to her: ‘My daughter, is there not a synagogue in your neighborhood?’ She replied: ‘Rabbi, don’t I receive reward for the steps?” From this, Rabbi Yochanan learned that one who walks to synagogue receives reward for every step, and the further the synagogue is the greater the reward, for every step and stride taken to the synagogue, one is rewarded. Similarly, it is related elsewhere in the Talmud (Baba Metzia 107a), that in the opinion of the Amora Rav, the interpretation of the Torah blessing, “Blessed are you in the city” is: “That your house be near the synagogue” (so one can rush to come to synagogue, in order to be among the first ten worshippers to arrive – ‘Torat Chaim’); however, Rabbi Yochanan disagreed with Rav’s interpretation (instead, interpreting “Blessed are you in the city” – “That your bathroom be near your table”), because, as he had learned from the widow, when walking to a distant synagogue one receives reward for every step.

Go Further When There’s a Reason

Although, this poses a difficulty: Does this mean that everyone living on one side of the city should go pray in a synagogue located on the other side of the city, and vice versa? Wouldn’t this cause an affront to the nearby synagogue by ignoring it and going to the more distant synagogue? What’s more, if someone were to dispatch a messenger to go to a specific place and he takes a circuitous route to get there, could the messenger possibly ask to be paid more? By the same token, why should someone receive a reward for unnecessary steps he took on his way to a remote synagogue?

Indeed, I found that some Achronim explained that the meaning of receiving reward for every step one takes while walking to a distant synagogue is when there is a reason for going there specifically. For example, if from the outset one had assigned a set place to pray, and only afterwards, a closer synagogue was built; or due to the virtue of praying in a synagogue of the Gadol Ha’dor (the eminent Torah scholar of the generation) i.e., Rabbi Yochanan; or, because the synagogue of Rabbi Yochanan was also the Beit Midrash of Torah study, and there is additional virtue of praying in a Beit Midrash.

Therefore, I wrote in my book of Jewish law, “Peninei Halakha” (Laws of Prayer 3:3): “A person is rewarded for every step he takes on his way to synagogue. Therefore, even if the preferred synagogue is farther away from his house, he should not be concerned with the trouble that it takes to walk there, because he is rewarded greatly for each step.”

Reward for Walking – Not Driving

Understandably, the reward is for actual steps taken; however, someone who drives to synagogue in a car misses out on the reward of his steps, as written in the Responsa ‘Torah Le’shma’.

Ten Thousand Steps

It’s worthwhile considering another aspect of ‘sekhar pisi’ot’. About forty years ago, Dr. Yoshiro Hatano from Japan, examined the damages and ills caused to modern man by leading a sedentary lifestyle. In the past, people were accustomed to walk a lot, whereas today, people rely on cars and elevators; consequently, the average person only walks about 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, whereas in order to maintain one’s health and weight, one should walk about 11,000 steps a day. Other researchers came to the conclusion that in order to maintain one’s health and weight, a person should walk 10,000 steps a day, and in order to lose weight moderately (1 to 2 kilo per year), one should walk 12,000 steps a day.

Over the past year, a number of my family and friends purchased a pedometer, and indeed, have discovered that the studies were correct: naturally, a person walks approximately 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day. This was true for the women in the family. However the men, who walk (and don’t drive) to the synagogue, ‘earn’ a few thousand more steps. For example, in our community the walk to synagogue for most people is between 500 to 1,000 steps; if we calculate three such walks a day, it turns out they gain an extra 3,000 to 6,000 steps per day. True, many of the men come to pray Mincha and Maariv services one after the other, but if they walk to a Torah class in the evening, they make up the difference.

Incidentally, this can explain a phenomenon that astonishes doctors in Israel. It turns out that the men in the dominantly Haredi city of B’nei Brak live longer lives compared to men in other cities in the country, despite there being cities where the awareness of living a healthy lifestyle is far more advanced. In contrast, women in B’nei Brak live as long as the average women in the country. It could possibly be that the elders of B’nei Brak, who make a point to walk to synagogue every day for prayers, merit reward for their steps – not only in the World to Come, but also in this world.

‘Sekhar Pisi’ot’ for Women

Older women should be encouraged to walk more frequently. How nice it would be if they were to walk on a regular basis to synagogue and Torah classes – the fact that we learned about ‘sekhar pisi’ot’ from a widow, was not coincidental.

Another story is related in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Ekev, 471): Once, there was a woman who was so old that she became despondent with her life. She came before Rebbe Yossi Ben Halafta, and said to him: Rebbe, I have grown so old that my life has become abhorrent – I have lost all taste for food and drink, and I wish to depart from this world. He said to her: Which mitzvah do you keep meticulously every day? She said to him: My custom is that even if there is something I enjoy doing, I push it off, and unfailingly, rise-up early to go to synagogue every day. He said to her: Don’t go to synagogue for three consecutive days. She did so, and on the third day became ill, and died.

From this story we learn that coming to synagogue persistently, every day, leads to longevity, and women also have a share in this lofty virtue.

Abbreviated Prayer in the Workplace

Q: In my workplace (a hi-tech company), there is an afternoon Mincha prayer service, and a disagreement arose: Some workers say that since we are in the middle of work, it’s better to daven (pray) an abbreviated prayer, without the repetition of the ‘shaliach tzibbur’, while others say that we should daven the regular, longer prayer. Occasionally, when certain people are the chazzan (prayer leader), they begin prayers with korbanot, and prayers take about half an hour. As a result of this, some people daven individually, or don’t pray at all. How should we act?

A: It is better to daven an abbreviated prayer, because it is preferable for more people to daven in a minyan, than to recite the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur (see, the Responsa of Rabbi Yosef Mesas ‘Mayim Chaim’, Vol. 1, O.C., 41).

However, when there are a number of people, and two minyans can be easily organized, it is preferable for one minyan to recite the repetition in which the mehadrin (people who perform the mitzvot meticulously) can daven, without forcing the rest of the people to pray at length.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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