Hello Rabbi and Susan,
I love your podcast and ancient Jewish wisdom. I love your teachings on entropy and how we need to be constantly vigilant on taking care of ourselves, ‘tending to our garden,’ to make sure we separate ourselves further from animals.
My question is, can we take this too far? I mean, I want to ‘better myself’ and put myself in more advantageous situations – not to manipulate – but to be at my very best.
I want to read as many books as I can to gain as much knowledge as I can.
I want to practice as much as I can so I can be as good as I can.
I want to exercise as much as I can to be as fit as I can and to look as good as I can. (I remember you even talked once about a masterful piano player who wore a stunning dress so people paid more attention to her PLAYING.)
But is it okay to have face lifts? Breast augmentations? Mole removals? Skin peels? Or is there a line somewhere?
I know someone can read TOO much, exercise TOO much, practice TOO much, and yes, even have way TOO much plastic surgery.
Thank you again, Rabbi and Susan, for your precious time.
Seeking ancient wisdom,
We love the way you brought in different parts of life by referencing reading and practicing (a musical instrument, kindness, knife-throwing? The options are endless), but your main question revolves around physical appearance so we will focus on the F which stands for Fitness. (Or as we sometimes lightheartedly say, Fysical Fitness.)
We have an obligation to show appreciation to God for the physical body He gives us by taking good care of it. This doesn’t only mean eating healthily and staying fit, but it also includes presenting an attractive appearance, especially to our spouses.
Sometimes that can include surgical interventions. However, as you say, it is easy to take this idea too far. Where that line is exactly, differs for each of us just as it does for the other 4Fs. The point of our free ebook, The Holistic You, is that all the Fs need to stay in balance with each other. This is why we visually present them on the circumference of a circle, not as a list in order of importance. For example, we are very much in favor of family. However, if someone refuses to get a job because of the time it will take away from his being with his kids, he is out of balance. This will obviously damage his finances but it will also end up hurting, not helping, his family life.
Attention to our physical selves works in exactly the same way. It is problematic when it crosses the line into an obsession or a refusal to acknowledge reality, such as aging. At that point, it damages a balanced life and most likely leads to damaging the physical body as well. We can all bring to mind celebrities who had way too many face-lifts and plastic surgeries until they looked like grotesque imitations of their former selves.
For one person, Botox injections might be fine while for another the desire for that might be a warning sign of ignoring dissatisfaction with other parts of life and thinking that a physical procedure will bring them joy and happiness. We would be loath to lay down a black and white list because individuals have unique needs and circumstances. In general, we would say that the more intrusive, time-consuming and expensive an activity is, the more self-aware a person has to be as to why they are desiring to do it and what the potential physical, emotional, and spiritual downsides are. So, going for a daily walk might be at one end of the spectrum while undergoing multiple operations on various body parts would fall at the other end.
Another useful tip for maintaining balance in our 5Fs is to remember that the ear allows a more balanced analysis than our eyes. (Do not go astray after your heart and after your eyes—Numbers 15:39) Thus, for someone contemplating plastic surgery we’d advise that for a period of say, two weeks, no pictures of the procedure or of “Before/After” pictures should be viewed. However, that time should be used to read words about it and seek out different written (not video) reviews of the process. During this two week ‘wait-period’ once-a-day one might say to oneself (in private) loudly enough so that his or her own ears can hear one’s mouth articulate the sentences, “I am trying to decide whether to have a _____(insert name of procedure) procedure. The downsides are cost and time in recovery etc. The upsides I expect include increased confidence etc.” Each day slightly different ideas should be enumerated along with different pros and cons. When the two week period is up (if not before) there’s a good chance that feelings will have changed.
We hope you have a wise mentor in your life and good friends who can help you place your activities within the larger picture.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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