The Jewish lesson Simone Biles taught us

The Torah teaches: "bacharta bachayim" - instructing us to choose life, encouraging us to do so emphatically.
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Simone Biles at an event in New York City on March 04, 2020. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for SK-II)

On July 27, 2021, Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast of all time, broke another record. She defied expectations, societal pressures, and humbly and bravely listened to her heart. To our benefit, she let us bear witness as she did all this on the public stage. Biles took a pause from participating at the height of her professional career in the Olympics to focus on her mental health and well being.

This focus on life and choosing life is a deeply Jewish value. The Torah teaches: “bacharta bachayim” – instructing us to choose life, encouraging us to do so emphatically.

Deuteronomy 30:19 (Courtesy: Sefaria.org)

What can we do today that will help us live healthier lives? Biles answered that question for herself when she stepped back from participating this past week to tend to her health. The onus remains upon us to look into our own lives, pushing us to confront the pieces we might need to live by or let go of in order to live more fully.

Every day in Jewish liturgy we say “velo nevosh l’olam vaed” – and we will never feel shame. Jewish tradition sensitizes us here to the demoralizing and utterly debilitating power of shame. The hope or prayer of this line that we “never feel shame” becomes a mantra, like the teaching of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav “eyn shum yeush” – there is no despair in the world (Sefer Hitchazkut HaNefesh). Of course, there may be moments of despair and shame in our lives but by tapping into an intentional thought of releasing the power of shame or despair we recognize that those feelings are just feelings and that they pass. Biles, boldly and bravely, told her truth on the public stage. She shared about a part of her life that countless human beings struggle with though many may feel too scared to talk about, be it because of shame or stigma. She showed us what it was to live without shame, but for a moment.

Today Simone Biles is not only one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, if not the greatest, but she has served as a “dugma ishit,” a personal example, to countless people across the planet to live life without fear, openly struggling with her humanity.

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Unpacked or OpenDor Media.

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