Over the past years, like most people in our global community, I have received emails, phone calls and other notifications with requests to say tehillim for various individuals who sadly have life-threatening issues. Some are battling serious illnesses; others have been in car crashes and other mishaps; while some have almost drowned or been hurt in fires. The latest one is for someone I know who is now tragically in a hospital burn unit.
Whatever the story, whatever the age of the person needing prayers said on their behalf, one can’t help feel sad over their heartrending plight. And in some cases, maddeningly dismayed. Because even though whatever happened to them is, at the end of the day bashert, meant to be, Hashem still wants us to make the effort to watch over ourselves: And while many are in this situation despite their best efforts, no doubt there are some stricken men and women and children who did not have to be in the heartbreaking, catastrophic state that they are in – their lives hanging by a thread.
A few simple precautions; some common sense; a bit of preparation – and disaster could have been prevented – or at least minimized. Praying on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for another year of life is a huge step in the right direction – but it is not enough. You have to take a proactive approach to protect yourself.
There are basic actions you can take to potentially save your life – and those whom you love – many are easy to do, relatively inexpensive and not too time consuming.
The easiest one is a no-brainer. Install fire detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors in your home – and maintain them so they work. A quick call to the fire department or speaking to the person selling you these items can let you know how many you need for optimum safety and where to place them. A fire extinguisher in the kitchen is also a smart idea.
Years ago I got lucky. I woke up one Shabbat morning to a tablecloth with a large burnt hole in it. For some reason, that’s where the fire stopped.
Jewish homes have candles burning every Friday night. Candles can fall or a sputtering flame can throw out sparks that can jump and ignite a napkin or bentcher etc. An ear piercing fire alarm will let you know immediately if a fire is burning beyond where it is supposed to be. A shrieking carbon monoxide alarm will alert you to the fact that life-threatening fumes are filling your house. These fumes can be coming from a gas oven whose pilot light or burner blew out; from a car in the garage whose motor someone forgot to shut off; or from a malfunctioning gas furnace. As unlikely as any of these scenarios are – they still can and do happen. A few dollars and a few minutes can make the difference between being on or off a tehillim list.
So can knowing how to swim. It’s a skill that I feel is on par with driving in terms of its importance. The Torah recognizes that swimming is a necessary skill and even mandates fathers to teach their sons how to swim. (I imagine that would include girls as well.) Every adult and child should at the very least have the ability to tread water or float. One summer day, when I was six years old, I was walking on a dock to retrieve some change from my sister’s wallet that was in a pile of her clothing. As I bent down, I slipped on the wet, wooden planks and tumbled head first into the deep water. The good news was I had just days earlier passed my “Beginners” level in swimming and knew how to right myself up and swim to the dock, where someone helped me up.
Even if you are “land-locked,” it is not unheard of for kids to wander into their neighbors’ backyards and swimming pools. For everyone’s safety, people with swimming pools on their properties should invest in alarms or motion sensors that beep (inside the house) when someone walks near their pool or tries to open a gate. These sensors go off when there is movement and can alert the homeowner that someone is on their property. These motion detectors ( that can be planted upright in the ground ) serve another crucial purpose – they can warn of intruders or burglars even before they try to break into the house, giving the people inside a chance to call for help sooner.
Another dangerous activity? Walking while distracted. Based on my personal experience, and my observation of others whom I had to stop from stepping off the curb, I have come to the conclusion that speaking on a cell phone or texting – while WALKING – ups your risk for injury or death.
The fact is there is an epidemic of distracted, impatient, inconsiderate or impaired drivers (impaired because of drugs, alcohol, and lack of sleep, youthful inexperience or old age) and pedestrians have to be alert, vigilant and focused. Every time you step off the sidewalk, you have to make sure that you have the green light; if you’re busy texting or yakking on the phone you might not notice the light that was green seconds ago – turned red and you might end up walking into traffic. (I’m guilty of doing that – and lucky that I lived to tell the tale). You also have to be aware of the cars making their right or left turn, and react accordingly. In places where drivers are permitted to make right turns on red, it is even more crucial to be vigilant and watchful as the drivers usually look to the left to see if there is time for them to make a quick right turn. Frequently they fail to look at what is in front of them – the pedestrian crossing the street- as they inch forward.
In certain neighborhoods, due to the “how did he/she ever get a driver’s license” type of driving that is the rule, rather than the exception – I feel that I should bentch gomel every time I reach my destination, even if I am in a car – but especially when I am walking.
Even if you are on the sidewalk, and not near an intersection, you need to be attentive. Walking on the uneven, broken pavement (typical of today’s sidewalks) requires your full attention. I am currently nursing a very sore kneecap courtesy of stepping on a crack in the sidewalk as I put something in my purse.
Most importantly, the one thing that people must do to save their lives, something I have brought up several times before, is to get medical screenings in a timely manner. This includes blood work (to check for sugar, iron and cholesterol levels etc.); blood pressure readings; mammograms; colonoscopies and whatever else is recommended for your particular medical history. Tehillim has been said for too many people who postponed, delayed or simply never bothered to make the effort or time to get crucial medical examinations.
I was almost one of them. I will explain in my next column.