More than 20 years ago, I made a resolution that I would try to walk up steps whenever possible, rather than taking the elevator. At that time, I worked on the sixth floor. I told my daughter, “Elevators don’t exist for me.” I have continued this practice. I now work on the fifth floor at GBMC, and have four flights to climb. GBMC, like Yerushalaim, lehavdil, has hills, and in my building, the main entrance is on the third floor, but I park on the side and enter the building from the first floor. My practice is to walk up and down the steps, unless I am carrying something heavy (over and above my laptop and my weighty pocketbook, which also needs a diet!) or there is a social reason – I ’m talking with someone, etc. – to take the elevator. (See below for a technique for walking steps without getting short of breath.)
I realized recently that this resolution, taken bli neder (without a vow) is similar in structure to a neder (vow). It stipulates a specific thing from which I may not benefit (the elevator). It is a resolution about the cheftza (the object): the elevator does not exist for me, rather than the gavra, the person involved. That is, instead of saying “I will not do this or that,” it states that a certain item is forbidden, or off limits, to me. On days when I feel more tired than usual and am tempted to take the elevator, I tell myself, “Elevators don’t exist for me,” and turn toward the stairwell.
This year, in a search for both some distinct change that I can make as part of teshuva and to help me in my struggle with eating, I decided to commit myself to something I have discussed several times in these essays. I decided to forbid myself (bli neder) from eating anything after supper. This seems to be a very valid plan. It is not like saying I will never eat a piece of cake or chocolate again, something I can’t see myself fulfilling long term. There is no real down side to it; I can eat what I want to the next day. And there is nothing I gain by indulging myself at night. Naturally, my yetzer hara is rebelling a bit at this. When I eat supper, there is this little voice saying, “Suppose you get hungry?” and encouraging me to eat more than I need or want. I think this is a sustainable resolution, which should help me immensely in the long run. I will not wake up in the morning feeling over-full, which will allow me to start the new day in a better frame of mind. As noted in the first essay of this series, I can follow a resolution of not eating at night, while I have much more difficulty stopping once I start. I think this resolution of not eating at night is more similar in structure to a shevuah (an oath). It is on the gavra (the person). It’s not that certain foods are forbidden to me. Rather, I cannot eat anything after supper.
In thinking more about this, I realized something else. We have the Rambam, on the one hand, saying that, through teshuva (repentance), one becomes a different person. On the other hand, we have most gedolim (Torah authorities) recommending changing one small thing as our teshuva, something that can be attained. For me, not eating at night would create a new reality. If I can set this as my baseline, I can move forward and work on other things. It would change my life, and that is an exciting and perhaps scary prospect. Why scary? Because I have been concerned about this for so long that this concern is part of my daily life. Imagine a world where I have accepted this commitment, and it is no longer something to obsess about. I can really create a new world for myself, and, with Hashem’s help, I am going to do it.
Now for the step-climbing technique I promised you: My father, a”h, used this for walking up the four flights to our apartment each Shabbos, so I have been doing this since I was a child. (My record using this method is the 17 flights I climbed on Shabbos as a kid.) The key is to cut the length of the stride taken by half. So, you start up the first step with the right foot. Then, instead of going straight up to the next step with the left, you tap the left foot on the step the right foot is on, and then move the left foot to the next step. Then the right foot taps the step the left foot is on, and then moves on to the next step. This really works. When I walk up steps to work, I usually use this technique for the last flight, so I am not winded when I get to my office. It’s a lot like teshuva: Small strides can add up to attaining a new, higher level.
Janet Sunness is medical director of the Richard E. Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She will be giving a class (free of charge) on “The Teachings of Rav Schwab,” sponsored by the Women’s Institute of Torah, at Shomrei Emunah, Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m., beginning October 18. (There will be no class on November 1 or November 8.) She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, © Janet Sunness 2015