“A sound and healthy body is dependent on a sound and healthy soul” — The Rebbe
The Rebbe often spoke of how optimism, reinforced by a trust in G-d, is just as important to the healing process as medicine and doctors. In 1977, the Rebbe suffered a serious heart attack. One day later, he insisted on giving a talk, as he had done on that particular day for the previous 38 years.
“You must take care of your health,” the doctor insisted. “If not, there is a twenty-five percent chance of a relapse.” The doctor asked if the Rebbe understood what he had said.
“Oh, yes,” said the Rebbe with a smile. “You said that even if I don’t take care of my health — which, I assure you, I will — there is a seventy-five percent chance that there won’t be a relapse.”
What is the importance of a healthy body?
Your body belongs to G-d, who gave it to you to care for, as a vehicle to carry your soul through life. Just as you would not harm another person, just as you would not harm anything that G-d has created, you should not harm your own body. It is your duty to eat well, to rest, to stay in shape, and to treat your body with respect in every way. Physical fitness is not arbitrary or optional; it is part of your responsibility to G-d. On the other hand, worshipping the body is destructive. The body is a vehicle for the soul; its value lies there, not as an end unto itself.
Many people today are health-conscious. We understand that being healthy makes us feel better, makes us more productive, and ultimately lengthens our lives. We realize that when we are healthy, we can concentrate on family and work, and the other things that are important to us. But most significantly, a healthy body allows you to concentrate on your soul, enabling you to fulfill your divine mission in this world and live a meaningful life.
What is good health?
Good health is far more than a physical body that functions properly, much more than a temperature of 98.6 degrees. Good health is a sound soul in a sound body. Modern medicine has begun to discover the dramatic effect that a person’s spirit can have on the healing process. People with healthy, optimistic spirits, for example, have been shown to have stronger immune systems; psychologically, too, we are increasingly learning that a person’s physical health is directly affected by his or her faith in G-d. Conversely, even a small defect in the spirit creates a profound defect in the body.
Just as the body is nourished by certain foods, the soul needs spiritual nourishment. This nourishment includes an awareness of one’s mission in life and an awareness of G-d, who has empowered us with the abilities to fulfill that mission. A healthy soul connects to G-d through study, prayer and virtuous acts. As you fulfill your moral and spiritual obligations, your soul is fed with divine energy, just as your body is fed with material energy through the process of digestion.
The interrelationship between body and soul
Although we have doctors, the responsibility to care for our body and soul lies primarily within ourselves. Initially, of course, preventive medicine is the best option; this includes acknowledging the root of a problem and not just its symptoms. The medical community is just now discovering what the Torah has always taught: that identifying the root of a problem and explaining it to a person can help avoid the problem, or to heal it at its source.
The next time you exercise and feel re-energized, realize that you have just re-energized a precious piece of G-d’s property. As you breathe in deeply, or eat a healthy meal, realize that you are investing in a valuable commodity. But also remember that the health of your body is dependent on the health of your soul. And it is your responsibility to nourish them both. When your body or soul cries out, recognize the symptoms for what they are: an urgent request for you to address their needs, be they spiritual or physical.
Every aspect of your physical fitness has a spiritual component.
When you eat, you must acknowledge that the food is not meant for simple indulgence, but to generate the vitality necessary to lead a meaningful life.
When you go to bed with a humble recognition of G-d and a serious appraisal of your day’s activities, the soul is allowed to drink from the regenerative spiritual waters of sleep.
We play a critical role in facilitating the healing process in others. This is why we must visit the sick. Besides the fact that it is an obvious moral obligation, visiting a sick person shows them that they are cared for, which bolsters their confidence and hope. This, in turn, helps strengthen their determination to heal.