Friday, July 30, 2021/21 Av, 5781
Parashat Eikev Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25
I love the Olympics. I delight in watching everything from synchronized swimming to skateboarding. My favorite event is gymnastics, and there is no one better than Simone Biles. I watched the qualifying rounds with concern as Simone made uncharacteristic errors. In interviews, she commented that the enormous pressure she was under was causing her considerable distress. Nonetheless, Simone tried to center herself and perform at her best. After a fall, Simone made a painful decision that would make headlines throughout the world; she dropped out of the competition.
Simone didn’t step down because she was physically injured; thankfully, she did not hurt herself when she fell. She stopped competing because she is suffering emotionally.
This week’s Torah portion includes one of the most quoted Biblical lines, appearing everywhere from cookbooks to memoirs to theological writings. “Man does not live on bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) These words appear in the context of God’s generosity. Throughout the Israelites’ long journey through the wilderness, God supplied them with manna to nourish their bodies, but that was not enough. In offering food to the people every day, God was also nurturing them emotionally and spiritually. The people grew to trust in God’s offerings. This verse teaches that while it is incredibly important to take care of ourselves physically, our emotional and spiritual well-being are no less significant.
While the National Olympic Committee provided for Simone’s physical training, she was not given enough support in the face of so much pressure and stress. I pray they will pay attention to the emotional health of athletes in the future.
Since Simone stepped down from the competition, I have had a few conversations about it with members of our community. A friend explained that she experiences Simone Biles as a role model. Rather than putting her physical health on the line, she was courageous enough to walk away before becoming injured. It took enormous strength to step aside and cheer on her teammates. It took incredible resilience to stand before reporters, explaining that her mental health needed attention.
“Simone inspired me to think about my capabilities as well. Perhaps I need to learn to say no when I am becoming overwhelmed,” she said. “I am learning to, like Simone, take care of myself and honor my limits proactively.”
None of us can fully understand the stress Simone Biles is under, but most of us can resonate with the emotions involved. There is a stigma around asking for help or giving ourselves the spiritual and emotional support our souls demand but is imperative. Rabbi Hillel once taught, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” Human beings, after all, do not live on bread alone.
Rabbi Cassi Kail