Cardiac rehab

We must have a willingness to discard the heart of stone in order to acquire the gift of a heart of flesh.

Heart made from flowers (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Heart made from flowers
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
I have been attending and participating in a cardiac rehab exercise program for the past 15 months. I attend twice a week and spend an hour each time doing rather vigorous exercise under the watchful eyes of those in charge of the program. Even though I was only originally approved to the program for one year I have continued on my own past the mandatory time. All of my fellow sufferers in the program have had, as have I, a cardiac incident. Most of them are already senior citizens – though I hazard to guess that I somehow am the most senior of all of the seniors – but there are a few much younger people present who unfortunately suffered cardiac incidents at a relatively young age.
The group is composed of a mix of Israeli Jerusalemite society – haredi, religious, secular and indeterminate. We all get along very well, courteously sharing time and taking turns on the various exercise machines and being friendly, but not intrusively so, with each other.
The fact that all of us realize how much at risk each of us is undoubtedly contributes to this atmosphere of camaraderie and politeness. The usual rough edges of our societal behavior are not present in the exercise room. It is serious business there and there is no time or space for the everyday pettiness and foibles that so color our relationships with others in our usual everyday lives.
Though it would be an exaggeration on my part to say that I enjoy attending cardiac rehab twice a week I do admit that aside from the physical and health benefits of the program there are important ancillary benefits as well.
Firstly, the hour of exercise allows me an hour in which I cannot do anything else. As a workaholic Type A I was terribly frustrated during the first months of the rehab program. I was constantly thinking of what else I could be doing during that hour, and all of those tasks that I was now not doing were so important and pressing. But now, over a year later, I use the hour on the bicycle, treadmill, ski machine and hands-only bicycle to think about my plans and about myself. Especially in this month of Elul, an hour’s worth of introspection is worth a great deal.
MAIMONIDES POSITS that before one speaks publicly, one must think about what one is about to say three or four times. And he says that before writing and publishing one’s thoughts and opinions, one should review them a thousand times. Well, I cannot claim to have literally fulfilled those requirements, but the hour in the cardiac rehab exercise room does afford me the necessary time to at least think seriously about the issues that I will discuss publicly sometime in the future. And that is a great benefit to me – and, I hope, to you as well.
But another benefit of the rehab exercise program is that it proved to me once again that resilience, rehabilitation and self-improvement are always possible. Somehow, the arteries and heart muscle upon which our very existence depends can be strengthened, even repaired, by our own efforts and exertion. I am told that a significant number of those who enroll for the program unfortunately do not complete their year of rehabilitation for various reasons; it is too boring, too demanding of time and schedule, the results are never immediately visible and it is not very enjoyable.
All of these excuses are valid, but not nearly as valid as is the necessity to stay with the program and rebuild one’s cardiac functions to the extent that one can do so. This lesson of resilience, of repairing and healing is not confined to cardiac rehabilitation. It is the message of Torah and Jewish tradition regarding all areas of our lives – our social behavior, our charitable giving, our practices of observance and our direct relationship to our Creator.
The prophet Ezekiel promises us that the Lord will yet remove from us our current heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. The ultimate cardiac rehabilitation of the Jewish People, so to speak. But that rehab will also require our participation – our faith and diligence, our self-discipline and exertion, our willingness to discard the heart of stone in order to acquire the gift of a heart of flesh. May the good new year bring us strong and healthy hearts.
Berel Wein is the founder and director of The Destiny Foundation and serves as rabbi at Beit Knesset Hanasi in Jerusalem.