Dear Rabbi,

My friend is having issues with his digestive system. This is very painful for him. He has undergone a myriad of treatments, and the doctors are scratching their heads as to the cause of his illness.

I have always nudged him to grow in his spiritual life. Now he is asking me if this could be connected to his not fulfilling G‑d’s commandments to their fullest. What can I tell him?


Thank you for taking the time to write, an act that shows your great care and empathy for your friend.

Recently, someone gave me a series of letters from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, dated from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The correspondence was with Mr. Nathan Vogel of London in response to a question about how to encourage several of his friends in greater Jewish observance and a request for a blessing for someone whose wife just suffered a miscarriage.

Here are several nuggets from those letters. I hope that they will offer some insight into how to approach your friend’s question. Although one never knows the reason why they or their friends are suffering, this will serve as some food for thought.

First, the Rebbe described the Chabad-Lubavitch way of dealing with others who are less observant:

[T]he attitude of Lubavitch is quite the opposite [of not accepting a fellow Jew] and one of the basic Principles of Lubavitch is the emphasis on Ahavas Yisroel [loving your fellow Jew], which, as the Old Rabbi [Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, first Chabad Rebbe] declared, is a “vessel” for Ahavas Hashem [the love of G‑d], and that “love your fellow Jew as yourself” means literally, as yourself… This attitude of Lubavitch extends to all Jews without distinction...

In response to Mr. Vogel’s desire to help his friends improve in their observance of Jewish law and traditions, the Rebbe writes,

You surely know that generally speaking, there is no perfection in this world.

Therefore, everything as well as every individual has room for improvement, as our sages expressed it “all things of holiness should be on the upgrade.”

There are no exceptions from this rule, for even the greatest Tzaddik [righteous individual] must not be content with his present status but must seek to advance further and higher.

The Rebbe continues by explaining that thinking about the ways in which one needs to grow should not be discouraging. We need to know that G‑d gives every single person the ability to fulfill all that is required of that person:

At the same time, every commandment of the Torah is also a delegation of power and [the] ability to fulfill it, even for the individual who has not yet attained the rank of Tzaddik. For the Torah does not expect of an individual more than he can accomplish and that which he is commanded to do, he can surely accomplish.

It is important to bear in mind the above, because it is one of the tried strategies of the Yetzer [person’s inclination] to attempt to discourage the Jew from fulfilling his obligations by suggesting that it is impossible to fulfill all the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], or that it is a waste of effort and so on.

Responding to Mr. Vogel’s question about a friend’s health issue and what the person should do, the Rebbe wrote, “It is not my purpose just to preach. However, when I am asked for help or advice, I must state the facts clearly.”

The Rebbe explained that fulfilling G‑d’s commandments is not about doing something for the benefit of G‑d, rather fulfilling the commandments is actually for one’s own benefit:

For these laws, as all the other laws of the Torah, were given not for the benefit of the Creator, but for the benefit of the observer, and for his good health, both physically and spiritually. They are meant for the good and happy life of man, not only in after life, but simply also in this life.

The Rebbe elaborated by describing how every Divine commandment, or mitzvah, creates “vessels” and “channels” through which the spiritual “energy” nourishes our physical bodies:

In other words, G‑d is always ready, willing and able to bestow blessings upon His creatures whether merited or not, but the sin of commission or omission acts as a barrier. Therefore, the more Mitzvoth one performs, the more obstacles and barriers are removed to receive the flow of G‑d’s benevolence.

The Rebbe wrote that when one has physical issues, he or she needs to examine the Divine commandments that are connected to that part of the body:

Therefore, when a person lives in a way which involves a contravention of the laws of the Creator, it is not surprising that this brings about regrettable effects. As cause and effect are connected, so it is to be expected that where the laws are connected with certain organs of the body, the breach of these laws affect those organs in particular. For instance, the dietary laws are connected, of course, with the digestive organs, and the laws of Taharas Hamishpocho [family purity] are connected with the reproductive organs; hence, they unfortunately suffer from the lack of observance of the respective laws. The very fact that the physicians do not find any organic reason for the mishap of the person in question, only confirms the suspicion that the mishaps are directly connected with the breach of the said laws.

The Rebbe than addressed the question that arises from this explanation:

It might be asked: If there is such a direct connection between the law and the physical-health, is it not to be expected that those who observe the laws should be immune to unfortunate mishaps, while those who do not observe the laws should always suffer the consequences?

However, a little reflection will reveal that this is no argument or excuse to be lax in observing the laws. For, firstly, physical ailment or mishaps may be connected with inborn organic defects, or with accidents. On the other hand, one can never be certain that a person who appears to be strictly observing the laws, does so really in fact, for no one will publicize one’s failure.

At any rate, even if the observance of the laws would not be an absolute insurance, but only a partial one, one would still be wise and justified to observe them.

By way of illustration: In recent years parents have been strongly urged to give their children polio shots. And, although the incidents of polio is perhaps one in a thousand, or even much more rare than this, nevertheless parents will be wise to take this precaution, even where the chance is so remote. How much more so should, parents be wise to take the precaution, by the observance of the Divine Commandments, where the breach of them unfortunately brings dire consequences at much closer range.

The Rebbe adds that returning to G‑d brings a different type of healing than medicine can:

I wish to add that no matter what the past has been, repentance is always effective, and even more effective than the best medicine. For, whereas medicine cannot act retroactively, repentance can.

If the woman and her husband in question will resolve from now on to observe the laws fully, with sincere regret for the past failing, the Almighty, Who is the Essence of Goodness, will surely accept their sincere repentance and will forgive them for the past, and bless them in the future.

I hope that that these snippets clarify the connection between physical health and keeping the commandments. Regarding your friend, your approach to him should be (and surely already is) one of complete love and acceptance. That being said, you can share with him that mitzvah observance is actually for our benefit and brings blessings in our personal lives.