Latest update: June 13th, 2014
Chicken soup may be the Jewish culinary equivalent to penicillin, but there is a potpourri of sensible Jewish advice that can also be beneficial to one’s health. Jewish health advice? While many of our sages have passed down life-extending advice, there is no health information that other people aren’t privy to. However, there is a way to put a bit of Jewish spin on some time-honored salutary tips and make them more palatable, memorable, and inspirational for their intended audience.
Of course everyone wants to live a long and healthy life, but for Jewish people there is also a religious component to this goal. In Judaism, human life is held in the highest regard, so a Jewish person should always be heedful of his or her health – not just for his or her own good, but so the person can be there for his or her loved ones as well. Although real life in our modern world has a tendency to encroach on our attempts to stay healthy, the attentive individual should have (or be able to develop) the resolve to maintain healthy habits that can lead to a long and fulfilling life.
So here are some of my Jewish health tips:
Let your faith carry you. The power of faith is universally recognized, and if you genuinely immerse yourself in your love of Hashem, you have only benefits to gain. Believing in the Almighty can comfort you, soothe you and give you hope, all leading to good mental health. So daven, whether in groups or alone, and let your spirit soar. Your love of Hashem will elevate your sense of well-being.
Let Shabbos be therapeutic for you. Shabbos is a day of rest, but it doesn’t just mean taking off from work and refraining from secular activities. Look inward, reflect, bond with family and friends, go for a walk, rejoice in the holiness and serenity of the day, revel in the joy of life, think good thoughts, be optimistic, grow spiritually, refresh yourself for the week ahead.
I once wrote an article about a cantor who worked in a hospital as a technician and was told one day by a non-Jewish psychiatrist that Jewish people “have it made.” The cantor was puzzled and asked the psychiatrist to explain. “You see, unlike the rest of us,” said the psychiatrist, “you have this day of rest when you close yourself off from daily routine, forget all your secular obligations and concerns, and immerse yourself in the warmth and peacefulness of the day. What better therapy can there be than the Jewish Sabbath?”
Daven your way to good health. When you daven, your mind and body are actively coordinated, and that is a good thing. You are reciting passages in Hebrew using your focus and concentration, and at the same time you are taking steps, bending your knees, turning your body, standing and sitting over and over. All this is positive for good mental and physical health, and doing it several times a day or week can add up to bona fide exercise. In another article I wrote (in these pages), I discussed in more detail the health benefits of davening.
Aspire to be a tzaddik. No one is perfect, but doing mitzvot and aspiring to be righteous can lead to less worry, a cleaner conscience, a feeling of satisfaction, and better mental health. By taking the high road in all facets of your life, you elevate your well-being.
Wander the desert. The Jewish people did a lot of walking in the desert way back when, and while their aimless perambulating may have been punishment for their unfaithfulness, we know today that exercise fosters good health (okay, forty years of desert trekking wouldn’t help anybody). But “wander” whenever you can, meaning go out of your way so you get more exercise.
About the Author: Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series “History’s Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.
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