Based on linguistic evidence, it would appear that life and good health is almost a Jewish preoccupation.

For a start, what is the most familiar Jewish toast? LeChayim! (Literally, “To life!”)

If someone wants to say, “No worries; keep it and enjoy,” how does he say that inYiddish? He says, Zol zain tzu gizunt! (“Let it just add to your health!”)

With what words does one farewell a friend? Zai mir gizunt! (“Do me a favor and stay healthy!”).

And if a Yiddish-speaker wants to reassure an anxious friend that the best thing to do about a passing crisis is to view it in perspective and ignore it, he simply says, Abi gizunt! (“As long as you have your health!”)

A Jew, then, is constantly concerned about a life of good health – and rightly so, from both a physical and a spiritual standpoint.

* * *

In the annals of Jewish history, no individual has so frequently been turned to for counsel and blessings regarding this critical issue as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Hence the veritable mountain of responses and statements that offer guidance on this subject — through his voluminous correspondence, through answers relayed via his secretariat, and through public pronouncements at the chassidic gatherings known as farbrengens.

This volume, the first of three entitled Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit, presents a broad, representative selection of the Rebbe’s advice and insights on physical and mental health. The present volume deals with health issues of a general nature, while volumes two and three deal with more specific issues of physical and mental health.

Since, as the Rebbe so often indicated, the spiritual and physical health of a Jew are inexorably intertwined, many of the Rebbe’s responses and comments also relate to a Jew’s spiritual well-being. However, the present compilation does not address problems and issues that are strictly spiritual in nature, even when these issues may well spark repercussions in the clinical sphere.

True, the Rebbe’s approach to healing was holistic. The Rebbe would take into consideration the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of an ailment or of the ailing individual and would advise accordingly.

At the same time, the Rebbe drew a clear line between the physical and spiritual aspects of healing. The physical aspect of healing was invariably dealt with in an entirely medical manner, while the spiritual aspect — such as checking mezuzos and tefillin — was not intended to serve as a substitute for what was to be done within the confines of nature.

An example: In two public talks1 the Rebbe stated emphatically that in a choice between two doctors, one of whom is an acknowledged expert but is not necessarily G‑d-fearing, while the other is less expert but more G‑d-fearing, Jewish law directs the patient to the more competent physician. Healing a patient, the Rebbe explained, is an issue of pikuach nefesh, a matter of life and death. And what counts here is the doctor’s expertise, not his religiosity.

On other occasions, the Rebbe voiced a similar sentiment by recounting the following incident2 about the circumcision of one of the grandsons of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. There was a choice between two circumcisors — one mohel was a venerable chassid whose meditations were steeped in the Kabbalistic kavanos of the famed mystic, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, while the other mohel, a younger man, was a renowned expert, but not at all as learned.

The Tzemach Tzedek advised that the younger man be chosen. In this world, he explained, the essential element of a mitzvah is its actual, physical execution.3 In this case, therefore, the critical criterion ought to be: Who of the two candidates for the required task would do it more deftly?

* * *

Most of the material assembled in this work consists of private responses to individuals. It must therefore be borne in mind that the Rebbe’s answer to one individual does not necessarily apply at all to another, for, as the Rebbe once wrote,4 “It is patently obvious5 that a directive to an individual does not serve at all as a directive to the public, even when the issues are the same.”

Moreover, some of the responses to individuals are not necessarily the Rebbe’s final word on the matter, particularly since the Rebbe would encourage the use of the latest medical advances, procedures and medications, some of which were not extant at the time he offered those responses.

What we have done to try to resolve this latter difficulty is to quote numerous responses, even though some may appear different from others. The dates or sources cited may be of benefit in distinguishing the Rebbe’s later responses. So, too, by noting that numerous answers are written in the same vein, we have an indication of the Rebbe’s overall approach to a specific issue or matter.

In addition, the Rebbe sometimes referred to medical issues at public farbrengens. Many of his directives appear in these volumes. The Rebbe’s public directives in the course of the year 5748 (1988) are particularly noteworthy, such as the following:

“The general response to the questions many people [ask me] regarding medical matters: Follow the advice of an expert doctor;6 better yet, the advice of two expert doctors. Should they disagree, a third doctor should be consulted and the majority opinion should be followed.”7

At a farbrengen less than a week later, the Rebbe added the following: “On questions of health and healing, there is the commandment and instruction of the Torah, ‘Scrupulously guard your health,’8 [which is accomplished] by following the instructions of the doctor; better yet, a doctor who is also [the patient’s] friend, for then he is truly interested in his welfare, and so on.

“... Moreover, and this is of great importance: By being truly connected (hiskashrus amitis) to the Nasi HaDor (i.e., the spiritual head of the generation), [which is accomplished both] by studying his Torah teachings and — in the realm of action — by following in his ways and paths, and so on, in the best possible manner, then ... there will be no need to consult doctors, since the healing will come from G‑d Himself (and not through a mortal doctor). For when ‘I am G‑d, your Healer,’9 then from the very outset ‘no illness... will befall you.’ ”10 ...

Studying the Rebbe’s answers and talks on matters of health in itself forges another link in one’s personal spiritual bond with the Rebbe. And in itself, as stated above, such study constitutes a positive step towards sound health.

Knowledge of the Rebbe’s directives on healing also echoes the theme of a letter that the Rebbe wrote before accepting the mantle of leadership. There he writes, with regard to the Previous Rebbe:11 “There is a Rebbe among the Jewish people, and he is not bound at all by the limitations of nature. A person who wishes to proceed on a secure path with regard to crucial life decisions should not lift his hand without asking the Rebbe. When a person is confused or confronted by fundamental life questions, he must know that the Jewish people have not been left without succor. There is someone to ask....

“He should not rely solely on his own understanding ..., nor on the doctor. ...These are approaches that involve doubt. He has a sure path where he can clarify his doubts.... And when he follows [the Rebbe’s] directives, he will succeed.”

* * *

To conclude on a personal note: This volume is dedicated to my dear friend, Reb Nochum Noach ben Esther sheyichyeh. May G‑d grant him a complete and speedy recovery.

May our study of these volumes of the Rebbe’s teachings and directives strengthen our continued spiritual bond with him, and enable us to merit “the all-encompassing healing that will come in the Ultimate Future, in the era of Mashiach; may he come speedily in our days.”12

Sholom B. Wineberg
Overland Park, Kansas

24th of Teves, 5765
Yahrtzeit of the Alter Rebbe