“Más participación," interrupts Margarita, my massage-course instructor, “y menos presión.”

I nod without looking up and continue to knead down the back of Yvonne, my fellow student; this time, as per my Venezuelan teacher’s directions, using more participation (namely, from my entire hand) and applying less pressure.

“Muy bien,” she proclaims when I’m done, “very good.”

With a small towel, I wipe away some sweat from my forehead.

Onto the shoulders now.

“If you are not relaxed, how can you bring relaxation to your patient?”My eager fingers grab, pinch and pull her stiff joints, bidding the cartilage to allow her shoulders the ease of movement they so desperately desire. I work vigorously. I stand stiffly as my fingers do their dance, their concentrated dance, upon Yvonne.

Deeper now, deeper. More pressure, more pressure. Get out all the knots. Dig!

I’m breathing hard and quickly.

Yvonne nudges me and points to our teacher. “Más participación y menos presión. Involucrate!” Margarita repeats herself. “More involvement and less pressure. Get involved! You need to involve ALL of your hand! Ease on the pressure!”

I roll my eyes and we all giggle. It’s an ongoing joke, this constant reminder for me to slow down and focus on where my energy is coming from and where it’s going to, rather than pounding away zealously.

I shake my wrists, take a deep breath and carefully resume my labor of love on my dear friend and classmate. “Victim,” she claims with a wink.

I started this course about three weeks earlier, and the classes are the highlight of my week. I’m absolutely in my element as Margarita lectures, demonstrates, tests and guides us in everything there is to know about Masaje de Todo (Everything Massage). I knew a bit about massaging before I joined, having been blessed by G‑d with “hands that heal,” but entering the world of the erudite and gentle Margarita was entering into a whole new sphere of healing.

We’d always start our session with deep breathing.

We’d go through a series of postures and breathing exercises aimed at gaining control of the body and mind. We were to saturate our physical, mental and emotional selves with peace and tranquility.

“If you are not relaxed, how can you bring relaxation to your patient?” Margarita would challenge us when we would mutter about the silliness of pretending we are trees with roots reaching down 15 floors to the ground level.

I had no patience for this stuff; I felt like it was a waste of time. I wanted to get right down to the “real thing.” To the poking and prodding, twisting and tapping, kneading and knuckling, pinching and pressing, stroking and softening of the body. Y’know, REAL massage.

But the soft-spoken Margarita would not budge. “The peace and healing that comes from massage does not emanate from your hands alone but from all of your body’s maneuvers and from all of your soul’s energy.”

Well, I was certainly not lacking in THAT department; the only problem was, my energy was fast and impatient. And so, week after week, class after class, I learned to slow, tame and focus my overflowing energy.

And when it would happen (as it often did), that after a gradual build-up of careful kneading and gliding, I would lose myself in the intensity and euphoria of the healing moment, and start massaging with an uncalled for urgency, Margarita would be there to calm my intensely fervent moves. She'd remind me that an effective massage was a result of a process, not an instant. “Your massage will be a lot more productive if you slow down and use all your fingers as you rotate. You need to involve all sides at once, and you won’t need to exert so much energy when you do so . . . look,” She demonstrates on Yvonne, immediately eliciting a sleepy response of approval.

When will I learn? When will her wise words penetrate? When will I finally realize that slow and steady, not fast and furious, wins the race?

When will I finally realize that slow and steady, not fast and furious, wins the race?Margarita is not the only one trying to teach me this.

My dentist has been trying for years. “Buy a softer toothbrush and don’t brush so hard!” he chides me, shaking his head. “Brushing your teeth too quickly and with too much pressure will cause you to damage some teeth and miss out on others.” He pokes one in the back of my mouth. “Like this one." Heh. If only he knew that I cram six months worth of flossing into the three weeks before the appointment.

It’s the same message: For maximum effect, you need to deal with your “challenge” from all sides. You need to focus the setting, gather your energy beforehand and then dispense it evenly and deliberately. A sudden spill of forceful energy in one area will never equate to careful attention to all details.

And so, like a dutiful student, in addition to memorizing the músculos del cuello, la espalda, las piernas etc (muscles of the neck, back and legs, etc.) as well as the difference between sweet almond, soothing lavender, invigorating spearmint and detoxicating rosemary body oils, I also repeated the vital mantra: “Más participación y menos presión, más participación y menos presión” in between classes. “More participation and less pressure. More participation and less pressure.” Involucracion (“Involvement”) was the name of the game.

I was evolving from a simple civilian to a mighty massage therapist.

Walking in the streets, I frowned at incorrect postures; standing on line, my hands itched to ease the tension of the pregnant woman in front of me; and when I would bend down to pick up something from the floor, I always made sure to do it while flexing my knees.

One morning, praying from my siddur (prayer book), the budding massage therapist in me gave me a nudge. I realized, with a start, I was doing it all wrong. True, I was saying all the words from beginning to end in my tefillot (prayers) but there was no participación and no involucracion and thus, no productivity. I was trying to get to the end result by rushing; forgetting that prayer was a process and not an instant. You can only climb the ladder of prayer, rung by rung. Step by step. Page by page. Prayer by prayer. Awareness brings you to gratitude which brings you to humility which leads you to love which enables you to wholeheartedly embrace the Yoke of Heaven. That’s a heavy process right there, with no room for skimpiness.

You can’t expect change and healing unless you go through all the steps. The deep breathing exercises we start off our class with is just as necessary as the intense friction on the back. The gentle music and the positive thoughts are as important as the vibrations down the calves.

Awareness brings you to gratitude which brings you to humility which leads you to love As such, I could not attain the love and acceptance of Heaven if I did not go through all prerequisite steps. Without first clearing my head, learning about G‑d, understanding the words I was saying and opening my heart, I would not get to where I desired. The effects of prayer would not be felt, nor attained by utterance alone.

There had to be más participación in all areas; mucha mucha más participación.

And it’s not just in massage and not just in prayer that involvement makes all the difference. Sending over supper for a new mother is not complete if it’s not warm; and what about including a good wish? Inviting a guest to sleep over in your home is generous; but you’re a real mensch when the room is tidy, and the guest is made to feel completely comfortable. Lend your music player to your friend without warning them continuously not to break it. Give a discount to a needy customer without mentioning it. Smile as you hold open the door for another. Do your kind deeds wholeheartedly, all the way, and with as much participación and involucracion as you can summon. It’s the most effective way.

And it’s the Torah way.

Torah is not (only) about 613 commandments and a bunch of “you must” and “you may never” rules. Following the Torah is about having a connection with its Author, and when it comes to this relationship, complete immersion, complete participation, is required. You may be an employee from 9 to 5, a seatmate from 10:37-11:09, a customer for four minutes and a high school student for four years, but some relationships are timeless. You're a family member 24/7; you’re a human being 24/7; and your relationship with your Creator must be 24/7. It’s the only way it can work. Just as you don't assure your husband “I’ll be there for you on Tuesdays and Fridays,” so you can not promise G‑d to be there “five minutes in the mornings and five minutes when I can’t find a parking space.” That’s not a relationship. That’s a (one-sided) business deal.

The Torah is called Torat Chayim, the Torah of Life. It gives us life as it guides us through life. Every part of life.

I must remember that I can’t be a Torah Jew only in class, only with friends or only in the synagogue. Like breathing, Torah must be a natural and continuous part of my entire day and my every day. The Torah ought to be my fashion consultant, my dietitian and my entertainment advisor; it must be my absolute screenwriter. I am told that the rewards for such a commitment are rather gratifying. When we accomplish that no part of our day is untouched by the Wisdom of Torah, we will be filled with calm, confidence and joy, for “there is no joy equal to one which comes from the alleviation of doubts.”

Which brings us to Simchat Torah.

We read a portion of the Torah every Shabbat during the year. We finish the entire Five Books contained therein on the festival of Simchat Torah. We celebrate this holiday unlike any other in this holiday-filled month. Not with prayer nor with fasting, not with shofar blasts nor with willow-waving do we celebrate it, but with dancing. Pure joyous dancing. Hugging this life-giving Torah close to our hearts, we dance and sing with gratitude and appreciation. Jubilation shines from our faces.

And to acknowledge that our relationship with the Torah cannot be compartmentalized into autonomous days and deeds, on the very same day that we celebrate the completion of the Torah, we scroll right back to the first chapter and begin reading Bereishit (Genesis).

We never stop with the Torah; it’s our life.

From my massage course I have learned that to effectively reach my goal, I’ve got to surrender my entire being to it. Isolated bursts of energy are fine, but they don’t heal, they don’t cure and they definitely don’t make for a very worthwhile relationship.

Like Margarita repeatedly coached me, it’s not about más presión, but about más participación.