It is written: “And the Compassionate and Just One created the human of dust from the earth, and he blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and the human became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
The Chofetz Chaim, in his introduction to Sefer Shmiras Haloshon, cites the following ancient teaching regarding the union of body and soul: The human body is composed of 248 organs and 365 sinews. Corresponding to this are the 248 spiritual organs and 365 spiritual sinews of the soul. Each physical organ corresponds to a specific aspect of the soul.
The human being was created to serve the creation through a union of body and soul. Our tradition therefore teaches that just as we should take good care of our souls, so too, we should take good care of our bodies. As the Torah states: “Only guard yourself and greatly guard your nefesh” (Deuteronomy 4:9). The Hebrew term nefesh can refer to the soul, and it can also refer to the life-force which supports the body. According to our tradition, this verse is a source for the mitzvah to take care of our health. In his explanation of this mitzvah, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
“Not only may you not rob yourself of your life; you may not even cause your body the slightest injury. You may not ruin your health through carelessness, you may not weaken yourself by abstinence from that which is permitted, you may not willfully bring yourself into danger, you may not lessen your powers through an irregular way of life, or in any way weaken your health or shorten your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit's activity. Therefore, even the smallest unnecessary deprivation of strength is accountable to God. Every smallest weakening is partial murder. Therefore you should avoid everything which might possibly impair your health. You should not risk your health except when God himself demands it. You should not rely on a protective miracle of Providence, unless the fulfillment of duty makes it necessary to face danger; for Providence does not protect carelessness and foolhardiness. (Horeb, chapter 62)
The Chofetz Chaim stressed the importance of this mitzvah, and the following stories can serve as examples:
1. In a talk that he gave at his yeshiva in 1903, he said: “Don't go learning and studying inordinately, beyond the normal amount of Talmud. A person must guard his body against ailments. He must therefore rest, renew his strength, breathe fresh air. An hour should be set aside regularly for a walk around evening time, or for resting at home. As much as possible, one should bathe in the river, to fortify the body. Excessive, exaggerated zeal and perseverance in study stems from the counsel of the bad inclination, which seeks to persuade a person to toil away beyond his strength, so that his body should become so weakened that he will be forced to give up the study of Torah completely; and thus his reward will be canceled by his loss. In my own self I have seen this: In my early years I kept learning and studying Torah beyond my strength, and as a result, my eyes became weakened; and so the doctors decreed that I must not read any printed work studiously for a full two years.” (The Chafetz Chaim by Rabbi Moses Yoshor, ArtScroll)
2. The following story was told by Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, a noted teacher of Mussar – Torah teachings related to ethics and character development. Rabbi Levovtiz personally witnessed this story:
A grandson of the Chofetz Chaim passed away, and there was great mourning and sorrow in the Chofetz Chaim’s family; everyone sat and cried. The Chofetz Chaim called someone over and said that food should be served to the entire family. “The levayah (funeral) will take a long time and the burial will be very late,” said the Chofetz Chaim. “Therefore everyone must be sure to eat right now.”
This, commented Rabbi Yeruchem, is the behavior of a great person like the Chofetz Chaim. He was careful to observe the natural laws of eating. He viewed them as an obligation and a mitzvah like every other mitzvah in the Torah. There is an obligation to mourn and cry over the death of a loved one, but the order of eating and rules of health must still be kept. (Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Parshas VaYishlach)
This great sage was known as the “Chofetz Chaim” – the one who desires life. He desired life for all of us; thus, he urged us to heed the Divine call, “Choose Life!” (Deuteronomy 30:10). The above teachings and stories remind us that we must choose life for both the body and the soul. In this way, we can merit to experience the “Shabbos” of human history when the Compassionate One “will eliminate death forever” (Isaiah 25:8).
Have a Good and Healing Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen