Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

Why We Don’t Do What We Know Is Good For Us

Our phone rang immediately after last Shabbos, and when I went to screen the call see who it was, I saw my mother’s cell phone number on the caller i.d.  But when I answered, it was my father on the line, which was unusual (I usually call him, and on their land line).  He told me that, shockingly, my mother was in the hospital (what?!), as she had had a gallstone which ended up in her pancreas and caused pancreatitis (yeah, I hadn’t ever heard of that before, but it’s a thing), and so she had been admitted to the hospital, and they were planning on keeping her until Tuesday.

Tuesday.  That was like, a five day stay.  That sounded serious to me.  And scary.  This is my mother.  Who is obviously supposed to be immortal and immune to all physical ailments.

Thank G-d, everything was okay.  My husband assured me that he’s seen plenty of pancreatitis which resolves very nicely (one of the perks of being married to a doctor, I guess.  They know stuff about things like pancreatitis).  My mother had her gallbladder out yesterday, and she’s recovering nicely, Thank G-d, may she continue to do so.

I was speaking with her yesterday evening, and she mentioned how much better she felt without her gallbladder, and how she realized now that she’d been feeling lousy for a little while, but just hadn’t realized it.  She had just gotten used to it.  And I had a flash of insight:

Sometimes we can get so used to feeling subpar that we don’t even notice it anymore.  

what?!  subpar?  never!!
what?! subpar? never!!

Feeling subpar can be a physical thing.

I know Nina Badzin tried out a 30-days of eating clean challenge, and I know that when I eat better (read: more vegetables, less pasta and cheese, less junky food), I feel entirely different.  And back in the days when I exercised (I really, really need to get moving again), I remember how nice that felt too.  Vaguely.  I vaguely remember.

But I tend to fall into the habit of being very sedentary (what can I say – I like to read books and I like to write and I like to play and write music.  These are all very sedentary activities!), and making myself easy food.  Pasta is easy.  So is béchamel sauce (and then I add cheese to it and yummmm).  So is a pizza bagel.  You get the idea.

It takes effort to make a salad.  Okay, it probably takes less time to make a salad than it does pasta with bechemel sauce.  Fine.  Even when I’m using pre-checked lettuce (I’m pretty serious about not eating bugs), I still have to cut other produce to put in the salad (otherwise it’s boring), and I have to think about including a protein (so it’s more filling), and so, mentally speaking, the process seems longer.  So I have to just get used to doing something different.  Which takes effort.

As for being sedentary, that’s much harder for me to crack.

we're super active around here.  See?
we’re super active around here. See?

Once I’m dressed for the day, I don’t want to put on workout clothes to work out.  I just don’t.  So I’m toying with the idea of putting on workout clothes first thing in the morning and then working out when I drop my kids off at school (do you see how I’m already putting off working out for two whole weeks?  This is what I’m up against in my mind).

But then I think about how my workout clothes are all shlumpy and have bleach stains and holes in them, and how I don’t want to go out in public in them, but how I also don’t want to purchase new ones.  So I have a lot of mental blocks to work around there.  Clearly.  Any advice is very much welcome.

You’ve heard all my excuses now.  But when I do eat well and exercise, I feel amazing.  I’m happier, more balanced and nicer to my family.  Hello?!  What’s the story with not doing it all the time?

Feeling subpar can also be a spiritual thing.

I’ve been frum for about ten years now, and even though I’m doing mitzvos all the time, I am definitely not doing it with a whole lot of intention.  And that’s not exactly what I’m going for, or what I want my kids to learn.  I mean, I did change my whole life around in a major way to be Torah observant, and I would like my kids to at least see that it means something more to me than mumbling a bracha before I eat.

I’ve noticed that lately, like for a while lately, instead of listening to a Torah class online, or reading an article on, or even reading Rebbetzin Heller’s regular emails, I will listen to NPR podcasts (I love RadioLab so much), take a quiz on Buzzfeed or just lurk on Facebook or Twitter.  So, although I do get something out of those activities (okay, not so much the quizzes, but, well, you know, um…), I’m not getting the infusion of meaning that I get when I connect to Torah.  And I need that infusion, I need it badly.

When I do take the time to listen to an online class, or read an article, it energizes me much in the way that exercising does.  After I learn with my Partner in Torah, I am really invigorated.  I’m reminded of the principles and values that inspire me, and that I want to live by.  It helps me be a better mother and wife, more patient, less irritable.  So why don’t I do this all the time, either?


It’s the little devil on my shoulder, obviously.

Judaism has a name for that little voice that tells you not to do that thing that you should probably be doing.  It’s called the Yetzer Hara (which can be translated as the bad, or evil, inclination).  There’s also a good inclination, the yezter hatov, but it’s less sneaky.  The yetzer hara is a master of all rationalizing and presenting choices which really seem to make sense (yes, I know I’m talking about it like it’s a person.  Just go with me here).  That’s what makes it tricky.

For example, it’s not like all of a sudden, my yetzer hara is going to encourage me to go, I don’t know, steal my neighbor’s car.  That would be ridiculous.  But it will encourage me to just take a little more time to rest than I actually should, because, after all, resting is important, and so is taking time for myself, and recharging.  These are all true statements.  But they’re only true in a specific context.  See how that works?  Sneaky.

Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller and Sara Yocheved Rigler wrote a great book called Battle Plans, which is all about How to Fight the Yetzer Hara.  I’m not kidding; that’s the subtitle of the book (and why I capitalized all those words there).  They use sources like the Maharal, Ramchal, Chassidic and Mussar Masters.  I own this book.  Ask me when the last time I opened it was.  Exactly.  That’s me not even trying to fight my yetzer hara.

So, not to make anyone panic or anything, but it’s going to be Elul here before too long, and this would pretty much be an ideal time to try getting out of a subpar mode and get into a better (superpar?  suprapar?) one.  I’m feeling more motivated after the conversation I had with my mother (so motivated that I actually wrote two blog posts this week – practically unheard of this summer), and so I’m hoping to channel that motivation.

I’m well aware that the key to success is taking small, accessible and realistic steps.  So I’m going to read a little bit of Battle Plans each day.  Like one little section at a time, maybe not even a whole chapter.  That’s my goal.  Anyone want to share what they’d like to work on?  You can share here on the blog, or, if you want to be more private, you can email me at, or send me a message on the blog’s Facebook page.  I find it’s easier to keep to a goal when I share it with someone else.  If anyone wants to be a study partner with me on this book, I would LOVE that.  Just let me know.


12 thoughts on “Why We Don’t Do What We Know Is Good For Us

  1. I’m going back to reading my daily dose of Just One Thing; it really moves my baseline contentedness reading way up, not just for the reading but also for the doing it inspires. I’m a little more than a week into eating clean again, and loving how that resets my baseline, too.

  2. Rivki! This is so scary! I’m so glad your mother is okay! I know you have a close relationship, and I’m shipping out your canvases today! Soon, you will have a gift for her. Don’t wait to give it to her! Every day is the right day to celebrate life and love! Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson Writer • Content Creator • Hat Enthusiast


    1. It was really scary, though I was able to avoid thinking about the reality of my mother’s mortality because it was, thankfully, a “minor” incident. I *can’t wait* to get those canvasses! And you’re totally right that every day is the right day to celebrate life and love. Beautifully said!

  3. Ah I feel this, all of this. My 30 days was great, but the summer?? Not so much. I feel SO much better when I eat better, DO better (as in use my time better). Facebook is especially depressing with all the realities in the world . . . yet, I’m pulled there. It’s bad. The one thing I’ve kept up is walking. Thank G-d or I’d be totally falling apart, I think. Also I’m still getting up at 5AM give days a week. It IS helpful to have some regular stuff that’s going well in the habit department. I feel good about those two things. What I would like to work on is balanced eating (without obsessively balancing) and getting to bed earlier.

    Such a thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    1. It seems like summer is the time when all plans go out the window! It’s sink or swim! I’m so inspired by your 5am wakeup. Someday I will get there. I’m also going to focus on the healthy eating and also try to get some actual exercise into my day (that’s not including running after little children).

  4. I need to get better about exercise too. Right now I have the very convenient excuse of recovering from surgery, but I’m getting better by the day so eventually that excuse won’t work, haha! Once I can exercise again, I plan on doing it in the morning because then I can have it be over with and not have to think about it again for the rest of the day. I’m also contemplating treating myself to a couple of “fun” exercise outfits because then maybe I won’t feel frumpy. I hear you about not wanting to shell out money for that, but at the same time, I really notice a huge different in my mental state and attitude when I put effort into my appearance. So that would be my first piece of advice: get some exercise clothes that make you feel good. (You can also find them at thrift stores sometimes.)

    My second piece of advice is find an exercise regimen that you like and that challenges you without overdoing it. In my experience, it’s really hard to commit to an exercise regimen that you hate doing. You have to like it and get a sense of satisfaction out of it in order for the routine to have any kind of staying power. Good luck! :)

    1. Thanks for the encouragement and the tips! And I hope your recovery is speedy and complete. I’m also planning on doing it in the morning – like those will be the first clothes I get into so I only have to change once. :) Now I’ll just have to get some clothes.

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