Notes from a ‘running rabbi:’ The spiritual dimension of a marathon – Canadian Jewish News (blog)

Some of the «running rabbis.» From left, Rabbi Meir Kaniel (New York), Rabbi Yehoshua Fromowitz (Nevada), Rabbi Rafi Lipner and Rabbi Dani Rockoff (Kansas)

Once, the question, “Hey Rabbi, do you want to go for a run?” would have elicited from me an emphatic, “I’m not a runner!” Before I began training three months ago, my distance record was half a kilometre in 15 minutes – the amount of time it takes me to walk to shul on Shabbos. Now, after running 10 kilometres of the Jerusalem Marathon, I remain not “a runner,” but my perspective has been irrevocably altered.

I believe that the lessons I learned through the marathon process can be broken into three categories that correspond beautifully to the three different areas in which every Jew is obligated to grow: spiritual inspiration, interpersonal relationships and personal growth.

The Jerusalem Marathon was, for me, more than just a run. It was a truly spiritual journey. Had I simply wanted to run, it would have made sense to do my first marathon on flat terrain, or even better, the local downhill Goodlife 10K, rather than through the beautiful but impossibly hilly streets of Jerusalem.

Although I have walked the streets of Jerusalem many times over the years, the marathon experience was completely different. When we entered the Jaffa Gate in the Old City, right around the 5-kilometre mark, it dawned on me that 50 years ago, this would not have been possible, as the Old City was then in the hands of the Jordanians and the famous proclamation of the paratroopers “Har Habayit B’yadeynu” (“The Temple Mount is in our hands”) had not yet been said.

Yet here I was, freely running the streets of Jerusalem surrounded by 30,000 people from around the world who’d come to revel in the same freedom. At that moment, the run became for me about the journey of the Jewish people, which began over 3,000 years ago when Abraham was commanded by God, “Lech Lecha” – start walking to what will be your eternal homeland, the epicentre of the Jewish people. On that day, as I ran, I continued that journey.

On an interpersonal level, I can confidently state that I likely wouldn’t have finished the race, or at the very least, would’ve had to resort to walking part of it, if it weren’t for the people who helped fuel my commitment to keep going. One was my brother Baruch, who regularly runs the hills of Bet Shemesh and could have easily done the marathon in half the time, yet stayed by my side to encourage me until the very end. As well, the three other “running rabbis” who took on this challenge, pushing themselves, as I did, to do something they’d never before considered doing, were a strong source of encouragement.

So too the 30,000 other marathon runners, who shared smiles and words of motivation as they ran. The Talmud states “[Give me] a study partner or [give me] death”. A very apropos explanation of these words is that our ability to achieve is hindered when we do not have someone by our side encouraging and motivating us. Outside of the beit midrash (Jewish study hall), I have never before felt the power of a motivational friend as I did in Jerusalem that day.

Most profoundly, after running the marathon, I realized that I am not simply who I think I am today, but rather I am who I could be tomorrow. We all have certain images of what we can do, and even more so, of what we perceive we can’t. We place limitations on ourselves when, in fact, we have the potential to achieve much greater things than we initially assume – not just physically, but spiritually and introspectively.


While running through the streets of Jerusalem, and more specifically, when I reached the 8-kilometre mark and saw the seemingly never-ending looming hill of Rechov Jabotinsky, I realized that if I could make it up that hill, chances are that I can make it up many other uphill battles I’ll face in life: battles related to my personal growth, to the Jewish values I want to strengthen and to figuring out what goals in life really matter to me.

I never thought I would run in a marathon, but when the opportunity arose, I took on the challenge, understanding that I would need to push myself well beyond my comfort zone in order to prepare for it. My commitment to meet my goals, along with the external motivators of raising money for a worthy organization like Kav L’Noar, getting into better shape and the opportunity to go to Israel for the run were catalysts for achieving a better me. In retrospect, the 10-kilometre journey was not really about reaching the finish line as much as it was about setting many more starting lines for goals I hope to achieve, both physical and spiritual. These are goals that have always been there, but that I never before believed were realistic.

I am already planning for my next runs: one with my Shaarei Tefillah community and the other with The House at the Bang & Olufsen Yorkville Run. Please contact me if you want to join me on either of these journeys on which I am embarking. In addition to physical training, I hope to apply the non-physical lessons I’ve learned, and to have the opportunity to share these lessons with others as we all train together – a true experience for the mind, body, and soul.

For now, however, I gotta run!


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