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Couch Potatoes Anonymous

By Tzvi Fishman
11/17/2010, 12:00 AM

After a reader wrote in about a chronic couch potato problem that was negatively interfering in his life, I did a little browsing on the web.

Unfortunately, it's not a laughing matter.

To my surprise, I discovered that the problem is very widespread, affecting millions of people. It even has a name, “couch potato syndrome.” Some of the unpleasant side effects include: an increased risk of osteoporosis, bad posture, back pain, increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis; little to no energy, lethargy, bad sleeping habits, little to no strength (particularly in the upper body for women), low metabolism, very high body fat percentages, unsocial behavior, schizophrenia, paranoia, manic depression, and other forms of mental instability.

Reading about the devastating effects of the syndrome, I realized that it also inhibits Jews from coming on aliyah. It’s similar to the false sense of reality that Jews have when they live in large Jewish communities like Boro Park, Monsey, Lakewood, the Five Towns in Long Island, Toronto, and others. The abundance of kosher bakeries, butcher shops, shteibels, mikvaot, yeshivah day schools, Jewish little leagues and bowling, can fool a person into thinking that he or she is living real Torah Judaism.

Jewish baseball. "O say can you see?"

What they forget is that Hashem hates the galut and doesn’t want His children to live there. As the Talmud teaches: “The night has three watches, and at each watch the Holy One Blessed Be He sits and roars like a lion and says, ‘Woe to the children, on account of whose sins I destroyed My House and burnt My Temple, and exiled them amongst the nations of the world… Woe to the father who had to banish His children, and woe to the children who had to be banished from the table of their father’” (Berachot 3A).

The Talmud also teaches that it is better to live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where most of the inhabitants are heathens, than to live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews (Ketubot 110B).

Furthermore, the Talmud declares that a Jew who lives outside the Land of Israel is like one who worships idols (ibid). This is because he is serving Hashem in a different way than Hashem wants. Hashem wants the Jewish People to observe the Torah in Israel. Anywhere else is a situation of b’dieved, k’elu, after the fact. L’chatchela, in their original Torah essence, the commandents are meant to be observed in Israel, as is obvious to any reader of the Torah.

In the same way, a couch potato who spends hours each day, staring zombie-like at his TV and computer screens, flipping from CNN, to Fox News, INN, the Jerusalem Post, HaAretz, and other Jewish related websites, enters a schizophrenic, fantasy world where he thinks he is really in Israel, an active player building the Land alongside everyone else. Thinking he is right in the middle of all the action, there is no reason to come on aliyah. In his mind, confused by the lack of borders in cyberspace, he’s in Israel already!

This bubble of delusion resembles the fantasy world of internet porn addicts who believe they are getting love from their harem of virtual women until they can cut themselves off from life and reality completely.

Please note: I am not writing about your normal internet surfer who controls his time on the web and doesn’t let it impinge on the reality of his family and surroundings; nor am I criticizing any sincere service of Hashem on the part of Diaspora Jews, but rather only the viewpoint which denies the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Jewish life and Judaism.

To help these unfortunate souls who are trapped in the “couch potato syndrome,” I am listing some tips I gleaned from my web search, to assist people in breaking this pernicious habit.

First, recognize that you have a problem. See what it is doing to you physically, mentally, and in your relationships with people, and in your relationship with G-d. Then, set a limit to your time on the couch. Try starting out with only one hour a day. Third, join a health club or gym. Start being more physical to get your blood circulating. When you’re watching TV or sitting at the computer, take a break every 15 minutes and do some exercise. Replace your unhealthy junk-food snacks with carrots, cucumbers, pumpkin seeds, and herbal tea. Get one of those big exercise balls and start rolling around on the floor. Get out of the house. Don’t let yourself be alone. And most important, make contact with aliyah-minded groups like Nefesh B’Nefesh. Come on a pilot trip to Israel, and start making concrete plans to stop living a fantasy life and make your life real. Counselors can be very helpful in the difficult process of change, and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed if you need their aid.

Most importantly, if you’re stuck on the couch, pray to G-d, and He will surely help you to get off.