Kapparah: Scrub me CLEAN

Rabbi Sara Brandes
September 10, 2013
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Thank you to Or Rose for his brave and honest piece in this month’s print issue , “‘Avodah,’ Embodiment and My Body.”  While we know in the abstract that today, 68% of Americans are overweight or obese(1), it is an act of great courage to write “I am more than 50 lbs over weight” in black and white. Rabbi Rose offers a personal reflection as to the cause of his predicament, confessing, ” In my attempts to grow as an intellectual and as an educator over the last two decades, I have gradually adopted a set of very unhealthy physical habits,” ignoring the tide of Jewish cultural pressure that supports his behavior.  After all, as Jews, we celebrate with food. We carry haunting memories of starvation in our recent past, and as the “People of the Book,” we count our greatest achievements in the realm of the intellect, not the body. Historically, we are yeshiva buckers – talking heads.

It is no fun to be a talking head.  And, it feels terrible.  After all, the body is where we feel our lives. It is where we yearn, soar, crave and melt.  Bliss and contentment are known only through the body.

This Elul, the Neshama Center and Mikvah, a center for embodied spirituality in Los Angeles, CA is offering a body-based complement to the custom of hesbon ha’nefesh (a soul accounting), and I’d like to offer it too to Rabbi Rose, and to all of you.  CLEAN is a 21-day conscious eating practice developed by NY based (Jewish) MD Alejandro Junger. It is not a diet, but it is a practice that radically changed my relationship to food, my body and my soul.

As 21st century Americans, we are so rushed, so stressed, often, so unhappy.  We are drugged, as Rabbi Rose personally shared, and so many of us use food as a drug as well.  We eat when we are tired, bored, sad or lonely. CLEAN has the power to steer a person clear of her food addictions, to clean the body.

The first time I did CLEAN was a spiritual experience for me. The words that best describe it are emotional words, spiritual words – lightness, freedom, elation.  The function of Yom Kippur, according to the Rabbis is kapparah, conventionally translated as atonement. However, literally the word refers to the act of scraping away, the process Noah had to use to prepare the wood of his ark for its pitch. CLEAN facilitates a physical, internal process of kapparah. It scrubs you clean. It reveals the demons hiding in the comfort eating to which most of us are so accustom. It can enable the spiritual process of heshbon ha’nefesh to open up before you, as you reconnect with and reclaim your body.  I am beginning a cleanse on Sunday August 25th, the night after my Ashkenazi community begins to recite Slichot, culminating with Yom Kippor’s fast.

Rabbi Rose, I hope that you, and all of you, will join me.



1. Source: Flegal, K. M., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Ogden, C. L. (2012). Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among U.S. adults, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(5), 491-497.


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Rabbi Sara Brandes Rabbi Sara Brandes fell in love with being Jewish while Israeli dancing at Camp Alonim in Los Angeles, CA. Since then, she has worked to build Jewish spaces where Judaism is felt, not just heard, space that are as fun and compelling as the feeling of holding hands, laughing, with hundreds of friends. Sara is California Director at Moving Traditions, and returns to Alonim every summer as Rabbi-in-Residence. When she is not engaging Jewish teens and adults in meaningful Jewish life, she is a yogi, partner of Hyim and mom to Michal and Gavi.

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