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Jews the world over just celebrated our receipt of the Torah and our unconditional acceptance of its precepts. One of the most prevalent principles exhorts us to do what we can to extend our lives. We are commanded to literally watch over our souls – in other words, to take care of ourselves.
One way we accomplish this is by taking a day off from the stresses and pulls of our everyday lives, and indulge in a day of rest we call Shabbos. Removing ourselves from the daily grind for 25+ hours and eating together as a family, socializing with friends, learning Torah or just sleeping recharges our “batteries” and gives us a much- needed mental boost to help us cope with the rest of the week.
But what about so many other activities that can lengthen our days – activities we shrug off, avoid or ignore? Look around in shul and you will see a lot of men, women and children who are clearly overweight. Over a very hot and humid Shabbos this week, I saw a young, obese man walking (actually waddling) with his wife and a few small children. I remarked to my friend that I was sure this man loved his children, and for their sake he had to somehow lose weight or there was a strong possibility he wouldn’t be around to raise them. Wondering why his wife let him get to such a state, we conceded that she could not make him take control of his life – for only he could. We also wondered why he had let himself get to such a state of obesity. But I think I know the answer – denial.
Denial or the refusal to face facts is an attitude employed by those who do not want to deal with reality. They think that by not acknowledging what is blatantly obvious will somehow make it disappear. Young children afraid of something – for example, a shadow in their room – usually close their eyes in the sincere belief that if they can’t “see” the monster, then it isn’t there.
Amazingly, many grownups buy into the childish notion of “see no evil, there is no evil” – but often with very dire consequences. There areehrlich men and women fortunate to be given early warning signs that something was amiss in their bodies, but who ignored this gift. Ultimately they and their loved ones paid an excruciating price.
We all know someone who ignored a lump, a lengthy cough, or chest pains – until it was too late. Or skipped their blood pressure medication – and had a massive stroke. Or, despite having high blood sugar, ate what they wanted – and ended up on dialysis, desperate for a kidney transplant. Or had to have a limb amputated due to complications from diabetes.
We have all gone to funerals, wondering, “if only”
Some argue that everything in life is bashert, so what’s the point of getting that mammogram, colonoscopy or blood test. What is meant to happen will happen. But that’s not what the Torah teaches. Hashem wants us to watch over our souls. He wants us to make the effort to stay healthy.
While we believe everything is destined, we still say every Yom Kippur that tefillah (prayer), teshuvah (repentance), and tzedakah (charity) can avert a bad judgment. Doesn’t teshuvah meancorrecting a bad habit or changing a bad attitude? If it is a mitzvah to do all we can to live longer, one can do teshuvah by eating and drinking in moderation, getting enough sleep, exercising, not smoking, and going for tests recommended by doctors. Thus the evil decree can be averted.
Most important, the ultimate act of teshuvah is summoning up the bitachon (faith) that will bestow on you the courage to confront what needs to be met head-on. Very likely, you will walk away with relief and much peace of mind.
But if the news isn’t what you wanted to hear, you will at least have increased your chances of coming out on top. Hishtadlus can give you a hefty head start on the cherished road to recovery.