Latest update: July 9th, 2012
We have just completed three sets of three-day Yom Tov/Shabbat combinations, and now with some sadness (tempered with a dollop of relief) we return to “normalcy” and our daily routines. Still fresh in our minds, however, though fading with each passing day, is the awareness we felt of our vulnerability and our mortality, during Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur – the period of time we call the 10 Days of Teshuvah.
For a week and a half, whether while davening in shul or just going about our daily business, our minds were focused on repentance and our fervent, even desperate hope that the Heavenly Judge will be merciful and inscribe us in the Book of Life.
According to tradition, there are three ways to extend our lives and avert an evil decree, as spelled out at the completion of U’Netaneh Tokef. They are tzeddakah (charity), tefillah (prayer) and teshuvah (repentance).
Giving charity and praying are pretty self-explanatory. Doing teshuvah entails making a serious effort to improve as human beings and Jews, minimizing our wrongdoings and transgressions against God, and man.
But I feel there is another component to doing teshuvah, and that is reforming.
But what about the transgressions we commit against 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 actively promoting measures to improve our health. When we indulge in activities that put our physical, as well as mental well-being, at risk or avoid lifestyle practices that are in our best interests, aren’t we then sinning before our Creator?
It behooves us, then, to 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 without a doubt, there will be improvement in both your physical and mental stamina.
Eat less of the fattening stuff or eat more of the good stuff: It takes restraint and self-discipline, but the beauty of being Orthodox Jews is that from a very early age, we learned restraint when it comes to eating. A child offered a candy without a hechsher will not eat it; even a young child knows that he has to wait several hours for ice-cream if he had a chicken sandwich. We just need to apply the awareness of, “no I can’t have this,” when it comes to unhealthy foods.
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 remaining 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. Do not allow yourself to be distracted, like chatting or texting on a cell phone when you are behind the wheel. 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! Some young people start smoking because they think it makes them look “cool.” It doesn’t. It just advertises that, sadly, you have self-esteem issues. Others smoke to relieve stress. Exercise does the same and so much more.
As far as I’m concerned, and this is my opinion – a parent who exposes babies or children to second-hand smoke should consider himself/herself a rodef. They are life-threatening individuals.
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.
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