The Days of Awe are quickly approaching, a time that we focus on what the future will hold for our families and us. In particular our thoughts and mental energies are directed to the fervent hope that we and those we love will be inscribed in the Book Of Life.
Ultimately our spiritual deeds may be a big factor in Hashem’s cheshbon of where we will be inscribed, but our physical deeds – such as our eating habits, our exercise schedules (or lack of them) and going for annual medical checkups may contribute to an unfavorable outcome of our tefillah on Yom Hadin. Our Judge has commanded us to shomer al nafshicha (watch your soul) which means “watch over yourself.” If we are lax then we are disobeying His command and committing a sin for which He may or may not forgive us.
It is said that Hashem helps those who help themselves. Here is a good beginning to do just that.
Don’t Smoke. If you are a teenager and haven’t started to, don’t even think about it. No matter what kind of pressure you are under, be it peer pressure or a misguided belief that having a cigarette dangling from your mouth makes you look “cool,” or as a means to “calm down your nerves”, or because of a rebbe you admire in yeshiva is always puffing away – don’t even try it once. Because taking that first step might mean you have already fallen into a pit that you cannot climb out of. Untold number of people are tragically addicted to smoking, an activity they desperately want to end to but instead have become slaves to, unable to stop a habit that very likely will shorten their lives – and very possibly undermine the health of those they live with. Besides the health issues, smoking causes one’s breath and clothes to reek; stains teeth and fingers; ages skin and is a waste of money that could be used for so many other things.
Why the gedolim haven’t yet banned smoking or declared cigarettes and related products treif and forbidden – as they did the wearing of human hair sheitels from India – is a mystery to me. I understand that it’s too late for some people to quit – but why not issue a proclamation that anyone currently under the age of 16 is forbidden to start smoking?
Exercise: The same way that people make time for davening every morning, afternoon and evening, there should be a requirement to set aside at least half an hour for some kind of physical activity, such as walking or weightlifting. Sort of like a zman kavuah. A man and his chavrusah can discuss their learning as they exercise together, making both activities enjoyable. While on the treadmill for example, each can have his daf in front of them.
Eating: The truth is some people eat less then others but nonetheless gain weight from what they eat. Conversely, there are non-stop noshers that are a size two. People need to accept this “unfair” fact of life and know how much they can eat and act accordingly. Believe me, I know this is easier said than done, but nonetheless, men, women and now children need to monitor their eating habits before they have to deal with “rodfim” such as diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer.
Medical Checkups and Tests: Going for a yearly checkup isn’t a big deal for most people. The problem is when the doctor orders tests that are universally viewed as being “nasty.” In particular, colonoscopies. I have friends who, having hit the age of 50, have been advised to get a colonoscopy. “No way” is the answer as they shake their heads in disgust. The fact is that a colonoscopy is a tremendous tool in the fight against colon cancer, which is often fatal if in an advanced stage. Colonoscopies can detect pre-cancerous growths that can be removed before they become malignant. A bit of inconvenience is worth the peace of mind a good report will give you or your family, or in the case of a not so good report, the patient will have a much better diagnosis because something was found sooner than way later, when the person is already feeling unwell.
The same is true for mammograms, pap-smears and other gynecological tests. This is true for men as well. Recently a young father in his early 30’s approached me after hearing from a mutual acquaintance that I write a column in The Jewish Press. He had had a very harrowing year fighting testicular cancer – a disease whose victims tend to be quite young – 20’s and 30’s (unlike prostate cancer that usually hits older men). He has surprised his doctors by still being alive. He told me that he was aware of physical changes in his body but was totally unaware that these signaled cancer. While it is common knowledge that a lump in the breast needs to be checked as soon as possible, that kind of information as it pertains to males is not as widely disseminated.
In the zechus of him sharing such a sensitive issue with me so that I could tell others, may he have a refuah shleimahand long years of good health.
Speaking about lumps, ask your doctor to check your thyroid for them since they can indicate hyperthyroidism – where there is too much thyroid hormone being produced in your body; hypothyroidism – a lack of the hormone; or cancer, whose incidence is quickly escalating. Luckily, the most common form of thyroid cancer is very curable since it grows very slowly, which is why your doctor should palpate your thyroid annually. In addition, one of the symptoms – among many – of hypothyroidism is memory loss and forgetfulness, and it is possible that an elderly person who might be showing signs of dementia is actually suffering from a lack of thyroid hormone which can be cured with medication. (Information on any medical condition can be found online by going to a search engine and typing in its name.)
I know that losing weight, exercising, and going to doctors/medical tests is easier said then done, but it’s something we must undertake – for while davening to our Creator to be merciful and inscribe us in the Book of Life is crucial, no doubt Hashem wants hishtadlus – effort – on our part as well.
May your davening this year be successful and result in peace of mind for your loved ones and klal Yisrael.