Makeup of Diet

Regarding the types of food that should make up your diet:

The types of foods you eat (as long as they are properly kosher) are not as important as the reason why you are eating. Do not eat in order to indulge in pleasure, but eat merely to sate your hunger and to be healthy, thereby enabling you to do good things, etc. See also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, ch. 231.1

(Tzaddik LaMelech, Vol. VII, p. 2192 )


With regard to vegetarianism:

Generally speaking, according to Kabbalah and Chassidus,such conduct has no place, as each of us is obligated to refine and elevate his quota of food. By denying oneself a certain type of food, one is unable to refine and elevate it. The only exception to the above are unique and particularly holy individuals.3

(Heichal Menachem, Vol. I, p. 225)

Proper Diet, Air and Sleep4

.. According to the will of He Who performs wonders and Who connects the body to the soul, the existence of the body and its connection with the soul which enables a person to live is dependent on two factors:5 1) the blood that is produced by [the digestion of] the food and drink which the person has ingested; 2) the air that a person breathes.6 The above are the functions of the windpipe and the esophagus, both of which are to be severed in order for ritual slaughter to be done properly.7

Although both of these — air, and food and drink — are necessary for a person’s life, there is a distinction between them. [We] eat and drink only at specific times. As our Sages comment (Yoma 75b): “At the outset, the Jewish people were like chickens pecking at the ground until Moshe came and established times for meals.” Similarly, the Rambam states (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Deos, the beginning of ch. 4): “A person should not eat unless he is hungry, nor should he drink unless he is thirsty.”

Breathing, in contrast, must be constant (i.e., this is the ordinary pattern). Thus our Sages said that a person can live seven days without eating or drinking (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Sh’vuos 5:20). If, however, he does not breathe for even a short time, he will die. (See the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 17:32; the Responsa of the Tzemach Tzedek, Even HaEzer, Responsa 68-70, and the sources cited by Sdei Chemed, Klallim, Os Chaf, sec. 108, which define the length of this short time.)

As a logical consequence, it is understood that since food and drink maintain the body and its connection with the soul, the food and drink that a person ingests must be appropriate for this function. Moreover, the quality of the food one eats affects the quality of the body in general, and its connection with the soul in particular.

.. Moreover, there are times when a person’s speech or thoughts can cause a food that would not otherwise be forbidden — e.g., a person who slaughters an animal in worship of the mountains (Chulin 39b) — to bring about undesirable traits in a person who eats it. For example, [while she was pregnant with him,] the mother of Elisha Acher8 partook of food that was being offered to the worship of a false deity and this caused her son to adopt an undesirable lifestyle (Rus Rabbah 3:13).

We cannot say that Acher’s conduct came as a punishment [for his mother’s deed], and not as a natural result [of the food’s spiritual nature], for his mother did not perform a transgression when partaking of the food. She was pregnant at the time and had smelled the aroma [of the food]. [In such an instance,] she should be given [the food] and [allowed] to partake of it (Yoma 82a);9 indeed, it is a mitzvah to do so.10

It is difficult to say that [the offering] is considered an auxiliary of the worship of false divinities in which case the principle “die, rather than transgress” would apply. Also, the wording “they gave her from that type [of food] and she ate it,” implies that it was necessary that they give her the food, [i.e., she was incapable of eating herself].

Therefore we are forced to say that even if there is an element of punishment involved, there is also a natural process of cause and effect. Since the food is forbidden, it brings about certain tendencies in a person who partakes of it. Nevertheless, in a situation where there is a danger to a person’s life, it is a mitzvah for him to partake of the food, even though doing so will cause undesirable character traits.

The food has not undergone any change. [Instead,] its nature and its qualities remain. For this person, however, it has become permitted to eat. Moreover, even with regard to that particular person, it is merely that the threat to life takes precedence over the prohibition; it does not, however, countermand it. ...

[Causing oneself this minor dimension of harm by eating the prohibited food] can be compared to surgically removing a limb to save the body as a whole.11

In general, if the food is forbidden, a person’s soul is repulsed by it, and the fact that he ate it is not considered eating. This applies even if he ate it without knowing [that the food was forbidden] as the Rambam12 rules (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Terumos 10:10, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi, Terumos 6:2).

If the above applies regarding eating and drinking, certainly, and how much more so, does it apply [to the air]. The air must be clean and pure, both physically and spiritually, so that a person can be healthy and fully developed in both a material and spiritual sense. In this vein, our Sages gave us several examples, stating (Bava Basra 158b): “The air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise,” and (Sanhedrin 109a): “The air [above the site] of the Tower [of Bavel] causes forgetfulness.”

With regard to the effect of the air on the body and its health, Bereishis Rabbah (ch. 34[:15]) states: “What is the air of that place like?” ... And the Zohar (Vol. III, p. 10a) states: “The created beings differ in their appearance because of the difference in the air, each one according to its place.”

[It is, however, true] that in these two sources the term avira translated as “air,” could also be translated as “climate.” As we find the term avir used with that intent in the statement (Bereishis Rabbah, loc. cit.): “There is a covenant established with the aviros,” where the intent is “climate.” In the Talmud, however, as of yet, I have not found the word avir used with the meaning “climate.” ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. I, p. 236)

The Role of the Physician, Particularly as It Relates to the Patient’s Adhering To a Proper Diet

The lesson derived from Parshas Kedoshim is associated with an aspect of [the month of] Iyar cited in the writings of the AriZal — that the letters of the word “Iyar” are the beginning letters of the words “I am the L‑rd your healer.”

That the concept of “I am the L‑rd your healer” is reflected in Iyar is seen in the fact that it is the month when nature is renewed, when trees start blossoming — i.e., the best time for a healthy body. And in Iyar, the health bestowed is not a recovery from sickness, but rather, that one does not become ill in the first place. As explicitly recorded in Scripture: “All the diseases that I placed on Egypt ... I shall not place upon you [in the first place], for I am the L‑rd your healer.”13

The healing bestowed by G‑d is transmitted to this world via a flesh and blood healer — as Torah directs, “He shall surely cause him to be healed,” on which our Sages comment, “Permission is granted the healer to heal” — meaning, that a healer is given the permission and power that through him, the healing from Above should be transmitted to the patient.

Since there are two types of healing performed by G‑d: 1) healing those who are already sick; 2) ensuring that one does not become sick in the first place (which is the motif of the month of Iyar) — it follows that the healing performed by a human physician, who receives his healing powers from Above, also possesses these two aspects: 1) healing the already sick through medicines; 2) instructing a person how to live properly and in a healthy way so that he will not become sick.

It thus also follows that the unique distinction of Iyar, which is the concept of [healing brought about by G‑d, as in the verse]: “I am the L‑rd your healer,” is also present in the healing performed by a human physician.

Because a person is healed from G‑d’s power, the physician must bind his [mode of] healing with G‑d’s [power to heal]. This expresses itself in various aspects.

1) To heal the sick properly, a physician must make sure that none of his personal considerations or motives interfere with his responsibilities. And this necessitates a physician requesting from G‑d the ability to free himself from such motives (as is mentioned in the physician’s oath). And, of course, the ultimate ideal in such an approach to the medical profession is the knowledge that through healing, a physician is carrying out the “mission” entrusted to him by the true Healer.

2) Together with the diagnosis and healing of physical ailments, a physician must also deal with spiritual and mental ills. A physician must ensure that a person act righteously, although the patient is requesting help for his physical ailments only — for spiritual and mental health aids physical health. All doctors agree that physical and mental health go together: “a healthy soul in a healthy body.”

For example, when a physician tells a patient to avoid certain foods, he must first convince the patient to overcome his desires to eat the food although it is delicious. If the patient does not possess the spiritual and mental strength to overcome his desires, the doctor’s instructions will be useless.

We see, then, that in healing (which is associated with Iyar), a Jew is to associate even his physical aspects with G‑d — both in regard to the fact that human healing comes from G‑d and the fact that bodily health is connected with spiritual health.

(Excerpted from a sichah of Shabbos Parshas Kedoshim,574414 )


.. You write that your son is suffering from asthma [for which thought has been given to his leaving Eretz Yisrael,] and you ask me about the feasibility of settling in Brooklyn....

Although this is not my area of expertise at all, according to what I have heard from many similar visitors [to Brooklyn who suffer from asthma,] the air in Brooklyn is not agreeable to asthma sufferers. Such individuals go to a place like Texas or the like....

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 26 Shevat, 5730)

Artificial Plant Growth

.. In reference to the matter you raise in your letter, relating to the endeavor to increase soil productivity by means of electrical currents, etc., I wish to make the following point (though, technically speaking, this is not my field).

It surprises me that no one has yet suggested doing basic research in the nutritive aspects of those plants and crops whose manner of growth has been artificially interfered with, whether by means of electricity or radiation, and the like, not to mention developments in hydroponics.

I think it is high time that a study were made of the effects of such foods upon humans in general, particularly those who are still going through physical growth and development, namely young people.

Even to a layman like myself, it seems incredible that the methods of speeding plant growth by means of techniques that are quite abnormal to it should have no effect on the food in relation to humans, who for thousands of years have been accustomed to eating only naturally-grown foods — all the more so, since the effects [of continually eating such food] would be cumulative.

(From a letter of the Rebbe in the year 5728)

Difficulty Drinking Wine

In reply to your letter of the 22nd of Adar II as well as the preceding ones, in which you describe the [unpleasant] results of your drinking the four cups of wine [during the Passover Seder]:

Consult with a doctor; he will surely inform you how to weaken the wine in such a way that it will not damage your health. This will forestallall the concerns you write about.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 13)