With three sets of three-day Yom Tov/ Shabbat combinations behind us, and a return to “normalcy” and our daily routines, now would be a good time to examine our lifestyle habits – and improve them. We just completed a period of time, known as the 10 Days of Teshuvah, pleading with the Heavenly Judge to inscribe us in the Book of Life.
But our efforts to have our lives extended should not end after Ne’ilah. It should be a daily undertaking, one that we ourselves must take.
Based on our Yom Kippur davening there are three ways to extend our lives and avert the bad decree, as spelled out at the completion of U’Netaneh Tokef. They are: Tzedakah (charity), tefillah (prayer) and teshuvah (repentance).
Doing teshuvah by vowing to not repeat our wrongdoings traditionally revolves around the transgressions between man and God, and man to man.
But what about the transgressions to ourselves? Shouldn’t a commitment to remove bad behaviors and habits fall under the category of doing teshuvah? After all, Hashem has commanded us to take care of ourselves by avoiding dangerous situations and promoting measures to improve our health. When we indulge in activities that put our health at risk, and when we avoid lifestyle practices that can improve our physical and emotional wellbeing, we are sinning before our Creator.
Additionally it behooves us to also do a cheshbon hanefesh (a personal accounting of our actions), followed by personal teshuvah.
Here are some basic suggestions to accomplish this:
· Exercise: It may be difficult to find the time to go to a gym or sports club and work out on a regular basis, but finding a half-hour to walk should be doable. It may only involve doing errands by foot, like mailing a letter or pushing a baby carriage to the grocery store. When at home on the phone, you can do a stretching exercise, like standing up and down on your toes. Other possibilities include kicking your legs out, or holding out your arms and lifting cans of vegetables in the air several times before storing them. Every little bit helps, and can improve both your physical and mental stamina.
· Eat less (of the fattening stuff) or eat more (of the good stuff): We all know what we should be eating more, or less, of. It’s just a matter of implementing what you already know and summoning up the necessary self-discipline and effort.
You must be extra vigilant when feeding your children. Overweight kids tend to become obese adults, potentially facing serious health issues that can shorten their lives. You are their protectors and role models. If you eat sensibly, they will do likewise. Also, encourage them to exercise; for example, turn walking into a family activity. This will benefit them both emotionally and physically.
· Get treatment for life-threatening habits: Celebrate Shabbat, Yom Tov and simchas – but don’t go overboard on the alcohol. If you have a drinking problem, seek professional help. Ditto if you have any kind of addiction, be it drugs, gambling, indulging in risky behaviors or being involved in dangerous relationships like an abusive marriage. There are communal agencies that will help you receive the needed guidance and resources. You are made b’tzelem Elokim, and you are a valuable and worthy entity – deserving of an abuse-free life. You owe it to yourself and to those who love or depend on you to save yourself – and them.
· Be a conscientious driver: Always wear a seat belt, even for a very short drive, and never ignore stop signs and red lights. Never drive when sleep-deprived or after drinking. Also, don’t drive while chatting on a cell phone. If you feel impaired or distracted in any way, pull over until it is safe for you to continue driving.
· Quit smoking: For those who find it too challenging to quit, a good start is to cut down. And for those who don’t smoke, don’t start! This will obviously negate the need to quit.
As far as I’m concerned, a parent who exposes babies or children to second-hand smoke should consider himself/herself a rodeph. Thus theymay very well be transgressing the commandment of not killing.
· Be aware of your surroundings: Be alert and aware of the traffic and people around you. Know where you are going, and have a working cell phone handy in case of any problems. Always check the front and back seats of your car before entering it, even if the car was locked. Try not to walk alone in an unfamiliar or deserted area.
There are many more areas vis-à-vis our personal lives where we can do teshuvah. But trying to improve even one is a good beginning to a life well lived.