Today, Jewish Treats looks at the Jewish nature of some of the most common New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Lose Weight/Start Exercising/Eat Healthy Food: The mitzvah of saving a life (pikuach nefesh) is so great that it precedes most other mitzvot. This means one’s own life as well. Taking care of one’s personal health, whether that means eating a healthier diet, exercising or even making certain to go for an annual check-up, is part of the mitzvah that the sages connect to the commandment of Deuteronomy 4:15 – “And you shall watch yourselves very well.”

2. Environmental Concern: Judaism has always placed great emphasis on taking care of the world, because the world was created by God. An important component of the Jewish view of the universe is that God did not need to create humankind, that our very existence is a gift that comes with a responsibility. The sages inform us that “When the Holy One, blessed be God, created the first human…God said to Adam, ‘See my works how good and praiseworthy they are? And all that I have created I made for you. [But] be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy My world – for if you do spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it'” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).

3. Refrain from Gossip: People do the most damage to each other with their mouths. Damage done with our hands, such as injuries, thefts, etc, can usually be repaired. Words, however, are like feathers in the wind–they fly too fast to catch and can never be retrieved. Jewish law regards lashon harah, wicked speech such as gossip and slander, as one of the worst of the transgressions that one may commit against fellow humans.

4. Give Charity: Ideally, people should have no qualms about supporting those in need. The Torah, however, recognized that charity is not necessarily a natural instinct and, therefore, mandates the giving of tzedakah (charity) of 10% of a person’s income.
Ma’aser, which means a tenth (often translated as “tithe”), is the specific name given for the allocation of one’s tzedakah. In ancient times, each Jew was required to give one tenth of the produce of the fields to the Levite, and an additional tenth to the poor or to support Jerusalem. Today, ma’aser is generally given from both one’s regular income and from any additional monies that come to a person, such as bank interest, an inheritance or a monetary gift. Because of the intricacies of the laws and differences in situations, it is recommended that one seek the help of a qualified rabbi to properly allocate one’s ma’aser.

For more Jewish thoughts on popular New Year’s Resolutions, click here.

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