Rabbi Yossi Chaiton and Rabbi Alan Berg help answer the question, “What does Jewish tradition say about our responsibility to take care of our body?”
Rabbi Yossi Chaiton
Chabad of Oregon, shaliach, associate rabbi Portland Jewish Academy, Hebrew and Jewish studies director
“Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d,” but just tell a friend of your plans and you will be inundated with good, helpful advice – most of it contradictory.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, M.M. Schneerson, emphasized the importance of one’s emotional, mental and even spiritual wellbeing. Does the stress of a diet or exercise cancel out the perceived health benefits?
What should a person do? In Mishneh Torah, Maimonides code of Jewish Law says, “The two extremes of each trait, which are at a distance from one another, do not reflect a proper path. The straight path involves discovering the midpoint of each and every trait that man possesses.” This clearly indicates that the Torah advocates for a sensible and balanced approach to a healthy lifestyle – a diet and exercise plan balanced to take into consideration your overall wellbeing.
A person can find such balance by following the advice in Pirkei Avot, “Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend.” We each need a good friend or mentor, someone we respect and trust, someone who truly understands us and knows us well and has our overall wellbeing at heart. This person helps us implement a healthier lifestyle so we can “live long and prosper.”
Rabbi Alan Berg
Beit Haverim, Reform
Debbie Friedman created two fascinating modern musical settings for Jewish prayer, “The Angels Blessing” and “Mishebeirach.” Each asks God for purpose and blessing for our bodies.
The opening three lines of the “Angels Blessing” speak poetically to our purpose in living:
“May our right hand bring us closer to our Godliness. May our left hand give us strength to face each day. And before us may our vision light our paths ahead.”
These words explain our obligation to care for ourselves: Our bodies are God’s vessels for mitzvot. Our hands are the hands of God, our eyes are God’s eyes in the world. Our eyes re-enact God’s first words “Let there be Light!” Debbie’s “Mishebeirach” acknowledges another reality of our bodies: we can become ill, we are hungry, we hurt or we are emotionally at sea.
The first verse of the “Mishebeirach” calls upon us to avoid despair, to have the courage to push through suffering to continue to do mitzvoth: “Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” The second verse asks God to heal us: “Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah, The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit.” Debbie Friedman was a modern prophet. Her eloquence about the physical reality of the human condition is unmatched. Together these prayers can guide us toward the purpose of our physical selves and direct us toward healing when we are sick, hurt or lost.