JERUSALEM (VINnews) — While Jews worldwide are known for their stellar intellects, and a disproportionate number have won Nobel prizes, not many Jews have gained renown for their physical strength. In the Bible, Shimshon’s physical feats stand out because there are almost no other descriptions of brute force being used to overcome enemies and many verses extol the virtue of the spirit as opposed to physical power. On Chanukah, we celebrate the fact that Hashem “delivered the strong into the hands of the weak” and this is how we prefer to view the Jewish nation- physically weak but spiritually superior.
However there are exceptions to the rule and one of these is Resh Lakish, the 3rd-century Amora known both for his sharp acumen and for his physical strength. Resh Lakish could serve as an example for those who wish both to immerse themselves in Torah study and develop their physical strength concurrently.
One person who had pursued both Torah study and body building with significant success is Eli Brody, an Avreich who toils over his studies day and night but has still found time to build his body and achieve spectacular success in weightlifting competitions. Last week Brody won first place in Israel in a powerlifting competition, breaking a number of all-time Israeli records in the process. Brody, who weighs less than 90 kg, lifted 312.5 kg in the deadlift exercise, 230 kg in the squat position and 170 kg in the bench press.
Despite his success, Eli remains humble and unassuming and in a recent Kikar Hashabat interview says that he doesn’t like being on a podium or being viewed as superior to others. “I like what I do but not because I feel worth more than you -that would give me a bad feeling. When a person glorifies himself he is the most lonely human being there is and I wouldn’t want to feel that. I prefer to get inspired by a guy who lifted 150 kg after putting in tremendous effort and I feel he is no less deserving of admiration than me.”
However due to Eli’s success, he is sought after as a trainer and could theoretically spend his time coaching other people to success but Eli is firmly planted in the Beit Midrash:
“I’m totally an Avreich. It may sound strange to some people but I always dreamed of being an Avreich – I didn’t dream of being a teacher or a rosh yeshiva, simply to be and Avreich and thank G-d I live this dream. My life revolves around Torah, I train between the seders and since I train others online it takes me much less time.”
Despite suffering in yeshiva from Crohn’s disease, Eli did not give up his dreams and when he was hospitalized and asked what he longs for more, the yeshiva or his training, Eli said that he misses the yeshiva more.
Eli freely admits that his hobby is not very popular in Israeli yeshivos and therefore defines himself as an “American Avreich”, since in America such training is more accepted. Yet he still managed to receive permission to train as his teachers noted that he did not wish to give up any seder and, even before competitions only trained twice a week to prepare himself.
When he first competed, he was given a cold reception by most of the secular weightlifters but he adds that “from the moment they saw my abilities they shut their mouths. Now people ask me how much I intend to lift today and I say in all seriousness: ‘I don’t know – whatever Hashem decides for me.”
Eli says that he takes time on the side before lifting: “It’s quite common for people to go to the side and concentrate during a contest but for me I speak with Hashem, thank him from the depths of the heart for being here healthy and for all the good he has done for me. I ask for his help, since without that what am I worth?”
Eli adds that the secret of success is not strength per se: “this achievement is chiefly mental. To be strong you don’t need special genetics or a well-endowed body. You need an excellent training program, you need to maintain a routine and not to get too arrogant – if you lift weights which are too much you cause damage. I don’t check what I can lift during the year and when I come to the competitions I gauge what I can lift and surprise myself.”
The same mental concentration enables him to sit for hours in the Beit Midrash and study and he says that his studies give him the “fire and liveliness” required to succeed in his training.
Eli does not see his achievements as a Kiddush Hashem and insists that “the title is just a title and is meaningless.” Despite this, he realizes that he is a role model to other aspiring lifters but advises them “to focus on the lifting itself and not on the prestige which accompanies it.”