Today there is much talk about health, both physical and mental. We are at the end of February; how many people are still keeping their New Year’s resolution to exercise and be healthy? There is an important Jewish value called “sh’mirat haguf — caring for one’s body.” Some have been surprised at this, as we Jews have always been more concerned with caring for others, with everything from giving tzedakah to business dealings. Yet, caring for yourself and your own body is essential in order to do for others. Here are a few texts to look at and talk about — it is very interesting to see how “caring for your body” was the same yet different in the past:
1. “The body is the soul’s house. Shouldn’t we therefore take care of our house so that it doesn’t fall into ruin?” —Philo Judaeus
2. “Since by keeping the body in health and vigor one walks in the ways of G-d — it being impossible during sickness to have any understanding or knowledge of the Creator — it is a man’s duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body and cultivate habits conducive to health and vigor.” —Maimonides
3. “Washing your hands and feet in warm water every evening is better than all the medicines in the world.” —Babylonian Talmud
4. “…there is no such thing as excessive body movements and exercise. Because body movements and exercise will ignite natural heat and superfluities will be formed in the body, but they will be expelled. Exercise removes the harm caused by most bad habits, which most people have. And no movement is as beneficial, according to the physicians, as body movements and exercise. Exercise refers both to strong and weak movements, provided it is a movement that is vigorous and affects breathing, increasing it. Violent exercise causes fatigue, and not everyone can stand fatigue nor needs it. It is good for the preservation of health to shorten the exercises.” —Maimonides
5. The sages saw a close connection between medicine and religion — between the body and the soul. Our bodies belong to G-d and have been given to us on loan. Caring for your body by keeping it clean and healthy is a religious duty that honors G-d; neglecting your body or intentionally abusing it is a sin that profanes G-d.
Today caring for your body includes diet and exercise. It will soon be “bathing suit” time so get fit! At the J, we are always reminded of the importance of physical fitness, and we are lucky to have a great place to work out AND a brand-new pool coming this summer.
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.