Jewish Perspective on Health
We all want good health. Feeling healthy and hearty boosts your quality of life and makes you more productive. It can improve your mood and thereby, even affect your relationships. With the higher energy levels that good health provides, you can invest more into everything you do.
The million-dollar question is how you can attain good health. And the true answer is that health is not in your hands. Hashem is the one that ensures health and helps you feel good and healthy.
Your income is not really dependent on your hishtadlus, meaning that they are two separate things that only seem to correlate. The amount of hishtadlus, i.e. work or effort that you put in, is not necessarily tied to the actual income amount you will see.
However, if you put in effort to live a healthy lifestyle and maintain your health, you make it more likely for Hashem to provide you with the good health you seek. If you make it obvious that you care about health through exercising and listening to doctors’ recommendations, it’s a way of showing Hashem that this is what you truly want so that He will give it to you.
What are the Jewish Values on Health?
Most likely, you know people who suffer from ill health or are sick. Many illnesses are not preventable, and are Hashem’s message to that person that this is part of his mission in life. Knowing this might make us wonder why we should work hard to live a healthy lifestyle, since our health is in any case not guaranteed.
Jewish tradition values good health as a tool that enables us to live life energetically and do mitzvos (Torah commandments). With good health, we can fulfill our life’s purpose and serve Hashem properly.
Therefore, Hashem tells us explicitly to safeguard our health in the Torah: “Venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem,” And you shall guard your life exceedingly. The Talmud tells us that this commandment refers to every action that is done in order to keep oneself healthy. Every time we do an act that can lead to better health, such as exercising or eating healthy foods, we earn merit for following Hashem’s will.
(Truthfully, Jewish health maintenance is not only about quality of life and preventing illness. The real reason we maintain our health is because it is a mitzvah to do so. Hashem tells us to be extremely careful with our lives and health, because usually, the best way to fulfill our mission in life is with good health.)
A deeper reason we care for our bodies as part of Jewish values on health is because Jewish tradition teaches that we are created in the image of Hashem. Once, when Hillel Hazaken, a great Torah sage who lived nearly two thousand years ago, went to the bathhouse, he told his students that he was going to do a mitzvah. His students were baffled. What kind of mitzvah was it to bathe?
But Hillel explained that our bodies were created in the likeness of Hashem. Just as a statue in the likeness of a king would be kept in mint condition, we must care for our bodies. Keeping our bodies in mint condition is part of Jewish values on health.
A Healthy Jewish Dietary Lifestyle
Exercise in Judaism
Another important aspect of maintaining health is to do exercise. The Rambam emphasizes the role of exercise in Jewish health maintenance. He explains that even if a person eats unhealthy foods, doing physical activity can prevent him from getting sick. Because remaining healthy is an important Jewish value, this means that exercise in Judaism is very much valued.
Therefore, the Rambam recommends engaging in activities of movement that increase one’s heartbeat. In today’s world, that might mean forms of walking, biking or swimming. Any kind of movement throughout the day, even if not done specifically for the purpose of exercise, can have the health benefits of exercise on your body.
Being careful with exercise in Judaism also means remembering that on Shabbat, that exercise routine might have to be canceled. While regular daily movement is definitely allowed on Shabbos, doing activities that overexert the body may not be in the spirit of Shabbos. You may want to check with your Rabbi before exercising on Shabbos.
Doctors in Jewish Health Maintenance
As part of the Jewish value of safeguarding health, it’s important to follow preventative care guidelines from our doctors. A Torah verse states, “Verapo yerapeh,” meaning “and the healer shall heal”. Jewish Sages teach that these words are a commandment to follow medical advice and turn to physicians for healing.
Maimonides declared that the greatest form of healing is prevention of disease. He served as a royal physician to the Sultan, and when the Sultan asked him, “How do I know that you are a good physician, since I’ve never been ill and had the opportunity to test your skills?” Maimonides replied that in Jewish tradition, preventing disease is a greater mark of a physician than healing illness.
In all aspects of Jewish health maintenance, it’s important to remember that our actions don’t guarantee our health. Many people who eat healthy, exercise, and practice preventive care still get sick. If a Jewish person gets sick, they are obligated to go to a doctor, and not rely on faith-based healing exclusively.
This also applies to mental health, where a Jewish person is obligated to seek help if they are suffering from a mental health condition. Not treating a mental health illness is against Jewish mitzvot for health. Asking a rabbi for guidance in this type of situation can be very helpful.
Similarly, Judaism obligates us to help those who are ill to get treatment from doctors, rather than saying that Hashem will help them or blaming those who are ill for their lack of prevention. Part of the Torah perspective on health is to help preserve the lives of others, as the Torah says, “Do not stand by your brother’s blood.” This is part of the mitzvot for health that obligates us to protect the lives of others.
Assisting the sick is a great merit, and it can serve as a merit for additional good health. RMBH Charities maintains a special fund for those who are ill. Donating to this fund means helping poor Jews receive desperately needed medical care, as well as care packages for when they are ill. Your donation can help them fight for another chance at a healthy life.