Health As A Divine Command


There is a story told in the Jewish tradition of Rabbi Hillel. One day, as the story goes, he was walking from his studies when he was approached by students who asked him where he was going? Hillel replied that he was of to perform a religious duty which was bathing in the bath house. His students asked how bathing was a religious duty. To which, Hillel replied that if some are appointed to clean the statues of the king “how much the more so should I, who am created in the divine image and likeness, take care of my body”.

This lovely little story has profound implications. It links the concept of caring for the body to the idea that this is a divine decree. If one takes seriously the idea that one is created “in the image and likeness” of something sacred, then it stands to reason that we are empowered to take care of this body.

Health, in the Jewish tradition, then takes on a special and sacred meaning. We are asked to care for this body, to keep it healthy as much as possible, to watch what we do to it and what we put in to it. Why? Because the body is a symbol of the link between mankind and God and, no matter how you define that concept, the idea of health and wellness become a powerful symbol.

The Jewish tradition is filled with instances when we are reminded of this special link. In the daily prayers, there is a prayer, thanks gives thanks for the proper functioning of veins and arteries. The prayer states that if these fail to work, we would be unable to stand “in life”. The meaning is clear, the miracle of how our bodies work is something to be thankful for. When they fail to do what they are supposed to do (and we get sick), we understand in very real terms, how precious life and health can be.

The importance of health and wellness extends to where we are supposed to live. There is a passage in the tradition that advises people not to live in a town without a doctor. The importance of being able to stay healthy is expressed in several texts in which the interpretation is used to support he idea of people becoming physicians and that the role of the doctor is to restore lost health to someone. Indeed, a commentary by the 12th century scholar/physician Maimonides, states that restoring lost health to someone is a command from God.

In our day and age, as Boomers age and we become more attuned to the workings of our body (and more appreciative when it all is working) we can identify with the idea of the holiness of health. So many of us are dealing with types of medical issues, gradual losses and, perhaps, images of our self in the mirror that we do not expect. Yet, the value of staying healthy, of eating right, getting enough exercise and sleep, has never been more important. It is, after all, a sacred duty to care for our body, a most precious gift!


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About Richard Address

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min is the founder and editor of He is the author of “Seekers of Meaning: Baby Boomers, Judaism and the Pursuit of Healthy Aging”. Rabbi Address developed the programs in family issues for the North American Reform Jewish movement and currently serves as a rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, N.J. He hosts the weekly “Boomer Generation Radio” in Philadelphia

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