Good health is, of course, one of the greatest blessings, from the Giver of Life. It is one of those blessings which one fully appreciates only when it is unfortunately missing.

Strictly speaking, perfect health means the absence of all disease, aches and pains and discomforts of any kind. But there is hardly a person who enjoys such perfect health for long. Most people will be satisfied with merely "good health," and that has come to be understood as the state of health in which a person is able to function and get on with his daily activities. But since people's activities differ, "good health"-or "physical and mental fitness"-may mean different things to different people. What a writer or scholar may consider good health may not be the same thing to the lumberjack or astronaut.

Good health is usually associated with long life. Healthy people are likely to live longer. Are people healthier nowadays than 50 or 100 years ago? Or to put it in another way: Do people live longer nowadays than in past generations? Statistics are often misleading. It is true that on the average people now live much longer, as much as 20 years longer than in the middle of the 19th century. But this difference is mainly due not to the fact that people live so much longer, but that fewer people die in childhood. In the late 1700s 50 percent of all deaths were children under the age of 10. Until the middle of the 19th century, only half of the children born in the United States reached their fifth birthday. In earlier times, the situation was worse. The Angel of Death had no more respect for princes than for beggars. Queen Anne of England, who reigned from 1702 to 1714, lost 16 of her 17 children when they were babies, and the sole survivor died before he was 12 years old.

Since 1850 considerable progress has been made to reduce the number of deaths in childhood. At present 97% of all children born in the developed countries live to adulthood. Today's children are protected from the dangers of such infectious diseases as smallpox, scarlet fever, dysentery and other epidemics, which carried off so many infants and children in the past.

It is this reduction in infant mortality that creates the statistical impression of a much longer life nowadays. Life expectancy in adulthood has not changed that much, though there has been a consider- able improvement. Once past 45, an American man can (on an average) expect to live to 72-a gain of only three years over 1900, while a woman of the same age may expect to reach 77-a gain of seven years. (Such statistics are the basis of calculations by Life Insurance companies, to know how much to charge for a life insurance policy at a given age.)

How does the body keep healthy? The Creator has given the body a built-in mechanism to make the necessary adjustments to outside changes, such as heat and cold, and to fight off infection. But sometimes the body-mechanism fails, or the strain is too great, and the person becomes ill. Two individuals may be ex- posed to the same health hazard; one may become ill, the other not.

It may also happen that certain groups of people are so well adjusted to certain health hazards that they are practically immune to them, while other groups are not. European explorers and colonists have greatly affected the health of native populations. The microbes which they carried-to which they were immune- spread quickly among the natives, often with devastating results. For example, when the famous British explorer Captain James Cook discovered Hawaii in 1778, the island's population numbered about 300,000. By 1860 there were fewer than 37,000 Hawaiians left; infectious diseases like tuberculosis, influenza, whooping cough and others had struck down the natives with terrible force. One Eskimo village at the turn of the century lost 98 of 99 inhabitants to measles after a visit from a friendly "civilized" explorer. In the same way, the terrible Plagues introduced into Europe from the Orient killed countless thousands of Europeans.

Today man is better able to cope with infectious diseases. Much of the credit is due to modern medicine, especially to the so-called wonder drugs. But the major credit for improved public health is due to better and healthier living conditions and preventive measures to safe- guard public health. Drinking-water is filtered and purified; vaccination against smallpox and other diseases is now a common practice.

In the underdeveloped countries, where such health measures are yet to be introduced on a large scale, things are quite different. In India, today, only one of three born babies can expect to survive to the age of 50. About 20% (one out of five) of all children born in India die before their fifth birthday, and those that survive are weak and sickly.

On the other hand, advanced industrial nations have created new problems and new health hazards for themselves. Pollution, for example. Chemicals and waste materials are discharged in tremendous amounts from factory chimneys, incinerators, automobile exhausts, polluting the air we breathe, and the rivers. Over- eating is another problem of the prosperous countries, for overweight is known to be a health hazard. The stress and strain of city-life further affects the health of city dwellers, causing crippling and sometimes fatal diseases. Governments are well aware of these health problems. They, and many private and public organizations, spend huge sums every year for studies and research-work in order to find answers and solutions to the problems of physical and mental health.

All that has been said about physical health, the health of the body, can also be said of spiritual health, the health of the soul. Moreover, the health of the body and the health of the soul are closely interrelated.

Like physical health, spiritual health also does not mean the same thing to different people. For some people honest and moral living is all the spiritual health they need. For others it may mean also helping neighbors, or the underprivileged. But, for Jews, spiritual health means more than honesty, morality and charity. It means a life completely at harmony through adherence to the Torah and Mitzvoth, embracing both the relation- ship to fellow-man as well as the relationship to G‑d.

Spiritual health does not go hand-in-hand with the advancement of civilization. We have seen some nations who were most advanced in science and culture sink to the lowest depth of spiritual sickness. Spiritual sickness can be most infectious, too. One often hears the phrase: crime-wave. Like plagues or epidemics, which know no boundaries, so crime-waves sweep through cities and lands, showing how sick people can get spiritually.

We have mentioned that the Creator has given the body a built-in mechanism to keep healthy. Certainly He has also given the soul a built-in mechanism to keep healthy. In the Jew it is an inborn love and fear of G‑d; a natural desire to do good and turn away from evil. But sometimes, under the stress of outside influences, there could be a breakdown of the built-in mechanism. In such a case there are spiritual "wonder drugs" which G‑d Himself has provided-the Torah and Mitzvoth. And just as one need not know how wonder-drugs help clear up an infection in the body, and the knowledge or lack of knowledge of how a medicine works does not affect the effectiveness of the medicine, so it is also with the daily Mitzvoth. The first thing is to do them, and then one can also try and find out more about their wonderful properties and qualities.

The best medicine, however, is preventive medicine. The spiritual equivalent of it is the proper Torah education of children, from their earliest childhood right through the 'teens. Those are the critical years, which will affect the child's entire life, through adulthood; that is the time to ensure that the child will have a "healthy soul in a healthy body."