“We fought, we won, let’s eat” is how many people sum up the essence of Jewish holidays. Of course, there’s much more to our religious observance than food, but we all have to admit that as a group, Jews do tend to celebrate with our stomachs. On Rosh Hashana we eat apples and honey, on Channukah we eat latkes and jelly donuts, on Purim we eat hamentaschen, Pesach we eat Matzah (not that it necessarily counts as an enjoyable food!), Shavuos is blintzes, and so on. Furthermore, each Shabbos we have 3 meals, and “Jewish” foods such as bagels, lox and cream cheese, herring and even shmaltz are traditionally associated with Jewish kitchens. And of course, there are the recurrent images of the Jewish mother and bubbie, whose greatest pleasures in life come from us eating, and eating and eating.

So, with such an emphasis on food, is it possible that there is even the slightest concern in Judaism for one’s health? The state of one’s body? Cholesterol levels? Obesity?

A small hole in the soul is a big hole in the body

In truth, we see that while Jews celebrate holidays through foods, the way that eating has been emphasized at the expense of what is really important, is a big problem. If anything we are taught that the tzaddik, the righteous person, “ochel lashov nafsho,” that he eats to satiate his soul. Not his body, his soul.

According to the Torah, each person is comprised of a body and soul, both holy, both G‑dly. Our soul is a “Chelek Eloka M’mal Mamash,” (Tanya, Ch. 2, based on Job) an actual part of G‑d Himself. Whereas we are told that our body is a vehicle through which G‑dliness can be seen, “Mi’basari Echeze Eloka,” “From my flesh I envision G‑d" (Job 19:26).

And clearly, body and soul are intrinsically connected. Kabbalah teaches us that a small hole in the soul is a big hole in the body. Meaning to say, what we experience physically reflects an emotional, mental and spiritual state as well. This doesn’t mean that if one is spiritually in a negative place, he or she will get sick, or that if G‑d forbid one is suffering physically, he or she is spiritually not a good person. Rather, part of the healing process for the challenges we face in this world is to approach it from all angles. And there is no quick fix. A hard thing to accept in our society.

We live in a fast paced world. We have our drive thru’s, and our ATM machines, we shop online, use email and IM, and things are only speeding up. Similarly, we want immediate results when we are not feeling well. We want a drug to keep us awake and then another drug to make us sleep. A drug to keep us happy and a drug to keep us healthy. While this approach to medicine may solve the immediate, acute problem, we all know that if something is not treated at the core, you may cure the symptoms, but the problem will keep coming back.

This is why the Sages teach us that if one’s head aches he should delve into Torah, and more so, if one’s whole body aches, he should delve into Torah, for the light of the Torah enlivens him. And the author of the Torah, our Creator, is also our Healer, as we are taught: “Ani Hashem Rofecha,” I am G‑d, your Healer.

This is to show us that attempting to heal and strengthen our soul will always have a positive affect on our body. And even when we are not sick, it is like a preventative measure, boosting our spiritual immunity and keeping ourselves healthy so that we are that much stronger if we face a physical challenge. And we clearly see this the other way around: when we are taking care of ourselves, when we feel healthy and strong, we are that much more prepared to face emotional or spiritual difficulty than when we are already feeling weak and falling apart.

However, when we focus on ourselves, there is a fine line between a healthy and strong body and turning our body into an idol. Though we live in a society where there is a high obesity rate with statistics proving that we live in a very unhealthy culture, simultaneously, all we need to do is look at the nearest newsstands to see how body image and health are a huge focus as well. We are always talking about this diet or that diet, how this star lost so much weight and how this one must be pregnant as she gained two pounds.

So where do we draw the line? How do we focus and not overfocus?

The Torah is very clear that our body does not really belong to us. It is a gift, and it is the house we were given for our soul. Being that our body is on loan, we must take care of it so that we can return it in the condition it was given to us. Therefore, we have many prohibitions about what can be done to our body. We are not allowed to desecrate, mutilate, hurt or destroy it. We cannot tattoo our bodies, make permanent marks that we were not born with, and likewise, there are even stringencies that one shouldn’t write on his or her skin - not turn our hands into notepads when we have no paper.

Our body is holy and it should be treated as such.

We especially see this in regards to a woman’s body as the woman’s body physically houses the body and soul of a baby, and spiritually houses the entire family as it is said, Beito zu ishto, that a man’s wife is his house, that he lives within her for she contains everyone within her. It is not that the woman is in the house, it is that the woman is the house.

It is clear that if we want to be able to perform the commandments, to be able to care for ourselves, our children and our families, we need to be as healthy as possible to do this. We need to make sure that we have what we need in order to be able to give to others.

And while we can see this most directly with women, this does not just apply to women. While women may physically be blessed with the ability to create, we all have this incumbent upon us as a commandment. To be fruitful and multiply is to be creative, and to create, “bara”, is etymologically connected to the word “barih”, healthy. When we create, when we are productive, then we feel healthy.

It is not that the woman is in the house, it is that the woman is the house

This is also seen in the opposite, the word for lazy, atzlut, is connected to depression, atzvut. And as any trainer will tell you, the hardest part about working out is putting on your shoes. It is the laziness that usually holds us back more than anything. It is hard to work out and be healthy and depressed. Even physiologically we know that the body emits endorphins that make us happy when we exercise.

So how do we find the healthy balance for taking care of our bodies? It is all about our focus. We can do the very same thing, but it is the intention that makes the difference and who and what we are doing it for. If I wake up every morning and run a mile, do 100 sit-ups and eat healthy, that is a good thing for my body. But is it good for my soul?

If I do it in order to have the energy to take care of my children, to be more interactive as a parent, to have the energy to be productive at work, to feel better about myself, to have more patience and energy with my husband, and so that I am a happier and more upbeat person, then it is good for both my body and soul. Then when I visit the sick and help a neighbor and have guests for Shabbat, because I have the energy to do so, everyone is benefiting from my exercise.

If, however, my working out is done because I am obsessed with my body image, because I want everyone to notice my body, and my body focus is at the expense of not spending time with my family, not being available for others, being too busy to learn or keep the commandments or do anything else, then it is terrible for my soul, because I have made my body an idol. I have begun to worship my body rather than to keep it healthy in order to help others.

We have an obligation to keep ourselves healthy. We have an obligation to eat right, exercise and ensure that our body is treated properly. But we must always remember that our body is not a mere physical shell. It itself is holy. It itself is G‑dly. And it itself is a house, for our souls, that expresses itself through the body, and so it is not so much for ourselves that we need to be healthy, but for all those around us who we can help and give to when we are.

So we should all recognize the beauty and potential in both our bodies and souls. We should be bari, healthy, so that we can be boreh, creative, and productive and give to this world in the individual and unique way that only we can do!

(And maybe the next time we smear our bagels, we can at least try non-fat cream cheese!)