“See How Precious Is the Body of a Jew”

.. My father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, related the statement of his father, the Rebbe [Rashab] Nishmaso Eden: “See how precious is the body of a Jew — for its sake has [G‑d] poured forth so much [Torah and mitzvos].”

When G‑d gives each and every one of us something as precious as the body, we are to make every effort and truly exert ourselves to ensure that the body be healthy. In so doing, we make it possible to fulfill G‑d’s will [of performing Torah and mitzvos, which is specifically performed with the body].

This is as the Rambam states in Hilchos Deos, beginning of ch. 4, that “maintaining a healthy and whole body is an integral part of [one’s] Divine service.” And then there is the letter of HaRav HaMaggid [of Mezritch] (printed in HaTamim) to his son, the holy “Malach,” [in which he states]: “A small hole in the body causes a large hole in the soul.”1

My intent is not to lecture — rather, it is my hope that the above will hopefully have a positive effect on you, and through you [it will also have an effect] upon your husband.

Although the Zohar does state2 that the “strength of the soul leads to the weakening of the body,” this is to be understood [in the context of the spiritual power and potency of the holy soul] weakening the corporeal demands of the body — not, Heaven forbid, weakening the health of the body.

Indeed, we readily observe that when a person is healthy he can accomplish so much more in all areas [than when he is unhealthy,] particularly with regard to matters relating to love of G‑d, love of Torah and love of a fellow Jew. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 341)

“Scrupulously Guard Your Health”

I received information about the way you have been conducting yourself. Understandably, it pains me to hear this — if the information is accurate.

By this I mean: I was told that you do a lot of fasting, and that though your family, sheyichyu, has been asking and begging you to visit a doctor for your health, you do not take their words to heart; you do not fulfill the doctor’s instructions [that you previously received]; [and] you do not even want to seek a doctor’s advice [concerning that which ails you now].

Surely I need not go on at length about that which we were commanded:3 “Scrupulously guard your health.” [Nor is it necessary] to expound at length on the words of the Great Teacher, the Rambam, in his Yad HaChazakah, Hilchos Deos, that “it is impossible to grow in comprehension and wisdom when one is hungry or ill ... for his body must be healthy and whole to serve G‑d” (see there the conclusion of ch. 3 and the beginning of ch. 4).

Moreover, when it comes to matters of health, “Permission was granted the healer to heal,”4 for which reason there are many rulings in Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Shabbos and Hilchos Yom HaKippurim, etc., [relating to the necessity of following the instructions of a physician].

.. It is my hope that these few lines will get you to change your conduct to the degree necessary: that you will visit a doctor and follow his instructions precisely. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVII, p. 96)

The Particular Importance of Maintaining
Good Health During Present Times

We read in the Torah portion of Mishpatim:5 “When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its load, you may [be tempted] to refrain from helping him, [but] you must come to its aid.”

The Baal Shem Tov explains6 that “donkey” — in Hebrew, chamor, from the root chomer, materialism — refers to the person’s body — “your donkey.” When you carefully examine “your donkey,” you will see that it is “your enemy”: — the body is considered the soul’s enemy, as the soul longs for G‑dliness and the spiritual, while the body longs for the material and corporeal.

The Baal Shem Tov goes on to say that this “donkey” is “lying under its load” placed upon it by G‑d, namely, the “load” of becoming refined through Torah and mitzvos. It may then occur to you that “you may [be tempted] to refrain from helping it” by following the path of mortifications and self-torment, thereby “breaking” the body.

However, concludes the Baal Shem Tov, not with this approach will the light of Torah reside. Rather, “you must come to its aid.” One may not rely on fasts and other forms of self-mortification to demolish the body’s desire for coarse materialism. Rather, the person should “come to [the body’s] aid,” by purifying, refining and sanctifying it. In no way should it be subjected to torture and mortification.

The Mezritcher Maggid, the Baal Shem Tov’s successor, instructed his son (known as the “Angel” because of his great piety and detachment from all physical matters) that he should scrupulously guard his health, for “A small hole in the body causes a large hole in the soul.”7

The prohibition against tormenting and causing anguish to one’s body is clearly established in Jewish law. Thus the Alter Rebbe states in his Code of Jewish Law8 that “man does not have ownership over his body, and therefore he may not torment it even [with a minor torment such as] denying it any type of food or drink.”

Moreover, the Rambam9 goes so far as to say that maintaining “a healthy and whole body is part of Divine service.” Thus, not only is self-mortification prohibited, we are also to take measures — as part of our spiritual service — to ensure that our bodies are “healthy and whole.”

What innovation, then, lies in the Baal Shem Tov’s commentary on the words “you must come to its aid”? Why in the first place would we entertain thoughts of responding to our “enemy,” [the body,] with fasts and other forms of self-mortification?

This will be understood in light of what the Alter Rebbe goes on to say in his Code, that it is permissible to afflict one’s body and fast for the purposes of repentance. We may do so since fasting for the sake of repentance ultimately benefits the body, as repentance enables the body to fulfill its Divine mission on earth.

The Baal Shem Tov’s novel interpretation on the verse “you must come to its aid” will be understood accordingly. It is possible, says the Baal Shem Tov, to refine the body and come to its aid — even when it is in need of repentance and spiritual cleansing — not necessarily through mortification but by the positive means of purification and refinement.

This innovative approach was specifically stated by the Baal Shem Tov since the aspects and teachings of Chassidus — and the Baal Shem Tov was, after all, the founder of the chassidic movement — are a precursor to and a foretaste of that which will be revealed in the Time to Come, with the arrival of Mashiach.

At that time the soul will derive its spiritual nurture from the body. Consequently, now as well, during the latter days of exile, Chassidus teaches us that many things can be accomplished with the body not necessarily through mortification, but by the positive manner of refining it with the method of “coming to its aid” [by purifying and refining the body].

This also explains why the importance of a healthy body was given much greater emphasis in later generations. For the later the generation, the closer the time to Mashiach’s imminent arrival; a time when the latent spirituality found within the body will come to the fore, nurturing and sustaining its soul. As such, special care must be given to the body and it should be accorded an additional measure of respect.

There is also a special quality to a Jewish body,10 for it is specifically regarding the [Jew’s] body that the Torah states:11 “You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues.” Absolute freedom of choice is uniquely Divine, and G‑d chose the Jewish body. Understandably, “G‑d’s choice” should be treated with the proper respect.

In addition to the special quality of the body resulting from the body being G‑d’s choice, Chassidus demonstrated a new path in Divine service: that safeguarding one’s health can and should be maintained even when spiritual cleansing and repentance are absolutely necessary.

(Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, pp. 530-532)

Good Health Is Most Important During Present Times
Prior to Mashiach’s Arrival

It pleases me to receive news about you from time to time. May G‑d help that the tidings I receive about you be good not only in the spiritual sense but also in the physical sense, [i.e., that you are in good health].

For a Jew, good spiritual health and good physical health go hand in hand, as in the well-known saying of the Rambam, that “maintaining a healthy and whole body is an integral part of Divine service.”

Also, there is the commentary of the Baal Shem Tov on the verse:12 “When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its load, you may [be tempted] to refrain from helping him, [but] you must come to its aid,” that one is to serve G‑d not with fasts and mortifications, but “with the body” — “Know G‑d in all your ways.”13

If this is so at all times, how much more so during the present time when there are — comparatively — very few people whose work involves disseminating Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, each individual who does this work is so precious, and every good deed [he does] is ever so precious.

[It is thus even more important during the present time to be in good health,] for we readily observe that when the body is weakened, the soul’s effect on the individual is lessened, since the soul works through the body, as explained in Tanya, ch. 37, see there.

I initially reckoned that to an individual like yourself I need not go on at length about this. However, I have received reports that you are not taking adequate care of your health — as explained above — and the verse explicitly states:14 “Scrupulously guard your health.”

I am sure that your not paying adequate attention to your health is with the best of intentions, but as mentioned above, nowadays each one of us is a soldier who must obey [the] commands and directives [of the Commander].

Since we have been informed that “in these times, when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach are close upon us, the principal service of G‑d is the service of charity and [good] deeds” (see Iggeres HaKodesh of the Alter Rebbe, conclusion of Epistle IX), we must do all we can to make sure that we have the physical strength to do as much as possible.

Because of this, there is the directive that I heard from my father-in-law, the Rebbe our Nasi, which he gave to so many individuals, to have a bite to eat before morning prayers. Moreover, he instructed many individuals not only to have a nibble, but also to have some form of pastry in order to feel stronger, and moreover, to be able to pray with added concentration.

Surely you also know about the famous letter that the Baal Shem Tov wrote to his disciple, the Baal Toldos Yaakov Yosef, where he frowns upon engaging in frequent fasts (printed in HaTamim, Vol. I, Ginzei Nistaros 1:8, et al.).

I thank you in advance for writing me that at least from now on you will begin conducting yourself according to the directive of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, that one should guard one’s health. As a result, the health of the soul and its Divine service will increase as well.

[With regard to your fasting,] replace it with giving tzedakah and a taanis dibbur,[i.e., “fasting” from speaking extraneous words] and the like (see Toldos HaMaharash, p. 72).15

Continue as well your work for the holy institutions in general and Collel Chabad in particular — but do so in a manner that will not overstress your body. Conducting yourself this way will be beneficial for the work as well, for then you will have more strength to carry out your work.

It is my strong hope that acting in this manner will enable you to see much success within a very short time, and you will be able to convey [to me news] about your successes for many long years.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 327)

“Healthy and Whole” — In Body and Spirit

.. One of the mainstays of Divine service is “You shall come to [the body’s] aid” — [i.e., serve G‑d] with the body. That is to say, since Divine service is to be healthy and whole, [and man must serve G‑d with both body and soul,] it stands to reason that the body must be healthy and whole as well.

This is particularly so, since Jews are “One nation on earth” in their ability to draw down G‑d’s unity even within physical matters. As such, not only does their spirit conquer their corporeality, but they also transform the corporeal into spirituality, so that there be true unity between the physical and the spiritual.

With blessings that you be able to convey glad tidings of openly revealed goodness regarding all the above.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 147)

Physical Health Facilitates Spiritual Health

I trust that this letter finds you in good health and in good spirits — something that is also relevant to the holiday of Shavuos, [when G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people]. For, as our Sages, of blessed memory, tell us, before G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, all those who were in ill health were cured and revitalized.

This [aspect of achieving physical good health prior to receiving the Torah] is also eminently logical, since a physically healthy Jew can better comprehend and follow the Torah and mitzvos, thereby accomplishing all that he is required to accomplish.

It thus follows that a Jew is duty-bound to take care of his health, since the health of the Divine soul depends largely on the health of the body, as both, [a healthy soul and a healthy body,] are essential in order to achieve the maximum [required and expected of the Jew].

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated erev Shavuos, 5735)

Seriousness of Taking Care of One’s Health

I received your letter and pidyon nefesh (prayer request) and will read it at an auspicious time at the tziyun, the sacred resting place, of my father-in-law, the Rebbe.

I believe I have already written to you that you need to be more careful in guarding your physical health. Thus you are to be strict in following the doctor’s orders and not take them lightly [“v’loi la’asos ‘kuntzen’ bazeh”], for [guarding one’s health] is also part of our holy Torah and is a mitzvah similar to all other mitzvos.

[Moreover,] there is the well-known saying of the Alter Rebbe (quoted in HaYom Yom, entry for erev Rosh HaShanah): “We have absolutely no conception of how precious a Jew’s body is to G‑d” — and that which is stated many times in Chassidus needs no further proof [of its veracity].

When some people say that they are “mehadrin,” [i.e., they observe mitzvos in the most scrupulous and beautiful manner,] and that is why they are not careful in guarding their health — in truth, such conduct is the very opposite of scrupulous observance.

Conduct yourself in the above manner [of taking care of your health], and G‑d will grant you material as well as spiritual good health.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VII, p. 349)

Succeeding in One’s Labors Is Connected to Good Health16

Regarding your health situation — do not take it to heart.

However, [make sure to take care of your health, as] guarding our health is an integral part of Divine service,17 and we are thus obligated to do so. Moreover, this has an impact on our work as well. Thus for the very sake of the success of our work, we are to guard our health.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIX, p. 236)

Importance of Maintaining Good Health

In the beginning, any spiritual arousal is mostly [passion and] light, which is why a person [in such a state will] experience excitement and an increased sense of vitality. The intent [of such an arousal], however, is to bring about actual deed, and to do so on a daily basis — that is to say, to clothe the light [and passion] in vessels [of deeds and actions].

Consequently, it is absolutely necessary that the passion be de-emphasized and the vitality be experienced on a lesser level — because [the emphasis must be on] the actual deed. This [actual deed and] performance is the ultimate intent.

Do not listen to the temptations of the evil inclination which claims that the [loss of spiritual passion, arousal and vitality] should lead a person to a state of depression, G‑d forbid. Rather, serve G‑d in an orderly and ever-increasing manner, clothing the light [and passion] in many vessels [of actual deed].

The progressive growth in matters of holiness follows the message of the verse: “I will banish [the evil and increase in goodness and holiness] little by little.”18 This [progressive growth] applies both to Torah study as well as the performance of mitzvos (among them — love of a fellow Jew), not taking on everything all at once or making a giant leap, [but progressing “little by little,”] {except in unique circumstances}.

In order to achieve all the above, the body must be healthy, which is why one must conduct himself in a manner harmonious with a proper diet, [good] sleep, etc. This is in keeping with the expression in Tanya, ch. 7: “If one eats fat beef ... in order to broaden his mind [for the service of G‑d, then the vitality of the meat ascends to G‑d] ... like a burnt offering and sacrifice.”

Since it is the “Torah [that] has granted permission to the healer [to heal,]” it follows that when there is a matter of uncertainty regarding a matter of health, or when one is suffering from an ailment, then the doctor should be consulted and his directives followed. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XI, p. 182)

When Necessary Take a Break

In conjunction with what you write in your letter:

Surely I need not encourage you once again about the importance of obeying the Torah’s commandment of guarding one’s health, which is also explained in the maamar of Basi LeGani of Yud Shevat of this year,19 and in many other places. Something as patently obvious as the above does not require additional proofs.

Thus your Torah study or Torah thoughts should be accomplished in a manner that will not have any negative effects on your health.

Do not fool yourself by saying that [minimizing Torah study out of a concern for one’s] health emanates from the evil inclination — although at times this may indeed be so. Generally, however, the commandment of “Know G‑d in all your ways,”20 includes the important principle that one is to be in robust and sound physical health.

Therefore, when you feel yourself becoming tired while studying or mentally reviewing your studies, either shift to some other area of study, or take a short break in your studies.

Aside from the fact that taking a break is a mitzvah as mentioned above [— since by doing so you are guarding your health—] it also directly relates to the mitzvah of Torah study, as it acts as a preparatory step for your subsequent Torah study, enabling you to continue your Torah studies. Moreover, in many regards, the “preparation to a mitzvah is likened to the mitzvah itself.”

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IX, p. 57)

A Proper Schedule in Accordance
With One’s Health Requirements

I received your letter in which you write about the state of your health:

You should seek the counsel of your spiritual mentor (mashpia), asking him to arrange your course of studies so that it will not in any way negatively impact your health, for there is the known Torah ruling,21 “Maintaining a healthy and whole body is an integral part of Divine service.”

Surely you are also aware of the saying of the Alter Rebbe (quoted in HaYom Yom, entry for erev Rosh HaShanah): “We have absolutely no conception of how precious the body of a Jew is to G‑d.”

You should therefore follow the doctor’s orders and make sure to follow a proper schedule — in accordance with your health requirements — regarding food, drink and rest. G‑d will then also grant you success that your davening and Torah study be accomplished with proper Divine reverence (Yiras Shamayim).

Enclosed is the maamar22 where you will also see that the spiritual deficiency caused by the power of the body only refers to the body being dominated by the animal soul, but not — G‑d forbid — regarding the [power of the body] in relation to a person’s health, for that is related to the well-being of the Divine soul.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VIII, p. 141)

No Valid Excuses for Not Properly Taking Care of One’s Health

.. Since there are those who complain that you claim you are not properly caring for your health because of the negative impact this would have on your work for the Yeshivah, [as it would take away time, etc.], [I must therefore note the following]:

It is well known that any and all such excuses have no validity when used to oppose the Code of Jewish Law. Nor are these excuses justifiable when opposing, as they do, the rulings of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe, and the Nesiim who followed, who were all extremely strict regarding guarding one’s health.

This is also cited briefly — brief in comparison to the importance of this matter — in the maamar of Yud Shevat 5713.

Since [taking proper care of one’s health] is demanded of us by our Nesiim, it surely will not result in any damage regarding a mitzvah in general, and particularly with regard to the Yeshivah. On the contrary, “One mitzvah brings about another,”23 thereby benefiting the Yeshivah as well.

I surely need not expound further. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VIII, p. 309)

Praying for Good Health

.. In reply to your question as to whether it is proper to fervently pray for success in material matters, etc., as well as good health.

Your question, understandably, is astonishing, as we are commanded in our Torah, the Torah of Life, to “Scrupulously guard your health,” and the Rambam rules in Hilchos Deos, the conclusion of ch. 3 and the beginning of ch. 4, that a person must see to it that he be healthy and robust.

There is also a ruling that, in general, a person must guard his health and all aspects [of his being]; and to quote the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Nizkei Guf v’Nefesh v’Dineihem, para. 4: “A person has no rights at all over his body ... to torment it with any sort of pain....” See there as well in Hilchos Shmiras Guf. I need not elaborate further on something that is already well known.

Moreover, according to many Rishonim, when a person feels that he is lacking something; e.g., health, etc., it is a positive commandment of the Torah to pray to G‑d for that which he needs.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIX, p. 122)

A Florida Vacation for Body and Soul

I received with pleasure and joy your letter of Monday, Parshas Chayei Sarah. I was already concerned that I had not heard from you for a while, although I was partly mollified by the letter that I received from your son sheyichye, which contained regards from you.

I am pleased that you found a residence [in Florida], and I hope that you and your wife tichye will feel good there and be able to use the time to truly strengthen your physical health, which for a Jew also leads to health of the soul.

As the Maggid of Mezritch wrote to his son, Reb Avrahamthe “Malach” — who very much followed the course of fasting and self-mortification, and in general was detached from this corporeal world and whose father would often try to convince him not to serve G‑d in this manner — “A small hole in the body causes a large hole in the soul.”24

We readily observe this with our own eyes: that those individuals who desire to serve G‑d — and their bodies do not interfere by being weak and the like — are able to serve Him in a more complete manner.

In addition to the above, it is also explained in many sefarim that the body is not a person’s possession, but belongs to G‑d. Therefore a person must take care of himself and see that his body is in good condition (understandably not at the expense of damaging his soul).

This is also why, according to Jewish law, a person who inflicts injury on himself, although he is not subject to punishment in a human court of law, is guilty according to the laws of Heaven.

In the words of the Alter Rebbe:25 “A person has no rights at all over his body, neither to smite it, nor to shame it, nor to torment it with any sort of pain, unless he does so as a form of repentance, for this pain [for the sake of repentance] is doing the person a service — to save himself from Gehinnom.”

I hope that you will soon find a circle of friends there upon whom you will be able to exert an influence, so that they will become not only physically healthy in Florida, but spiritually [healthy] as well.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. V, p. 59)

Importance of Good Health, Particularly for Having Children

.. You surely remember that when [the two of] you were here, I repeatedly told your husband, the Rav shlita, to take care and be meticulous regarding [receiving sufficient] nourishment and regarding his health in general.

For in addition to the main aspect that this is a command of our holy Torah — in the words of the Rambam: “Maintaining a healthy and whole body is an integral part of Divine service” — it is also relevant to your particular situation of [desiring] to have children.

During our conversation I noticed that he was not taking the matter [of his health] too seriously, so I reiterated my words, and from the time that the two of you have returned to the Holy Land, I have become even more apprehensive that he is taking this matter all too lightly and is not watching over [his diet and health] at all.

My intent [of the words] “watching over” is very simple — that your husband receive from a doctor a routine and a schedule for his meals as well as a list of healthy and good foods, and [that he do the same] regarding all other matters that are important to good health.

Hopefully, at least from now on, your husband will do the above; it does not matter if he will only do so under duress (v’lu yehei b’kabbalos ol), as long as it comes to pass. And nothing stands in the way of will — if he but wills it, he will do it.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVIII, p. 50)

As in All Matters of Torah and Mitzvos
Health Should Progress “From Good to Better”

I received your letter of erev Shabbos Kodesh Nachamu:

Thank G‑d for the news that your health has improved; surely it will continue to keep improving — as is the case of all matters of holiness [where one should constantly improve his spiritual condition,] for a Jew’s health is also a matter of holiness.

This is as my father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, stated several times in the name of his father, the Rebbe [Rashab] Nishmaso Eden: “See how precious the body of a Jew is [to G‑d] — for its sake has [G‑d] poured forth so much [Torah and mitzvos].” [It thus follows that the health of one’s body] must constantly increase and improve.

Moreover, it is also important for a Jew to be healthy so that [the opposite of good health will] not act — Heaven forbid — as a hindrance to his study of Torah and performance of Divine service.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. III, p. 398)

The Sacred Jewish Body

I have been receiving information about your state of health. My hope is that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better still. For we have been commanded by G‑d to “Ascend in holiness,”26 and the Jewish body is sacred.

Known as well are the words of theAlter Rebbe in his holy Tanya, ch. 49: “ ‘AndYou have chosen us from among all nations and tongues’ — this refers to the material body.”

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 100)

“G‑d’s Healing” — The Best Curative

.. May G‑d will it that in the future you will be able to convey only glad tidings about matters whose goodness is openly revealed, and so, too, with regard to matters of health — that [in the future may] your healing come about specifically in a manner of “G‑d’s healing,” as the verse states:27 “For I am G‑d your healer,” for which reason “no illness —from the very outset28 — shall befall you.”29 ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 276)