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Torah and Healthy Living

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Taco, Tequila, and Torah Tuesdays – 01/16/2018

Torah and Healthy Living – The Jewish perspective on fitness, diet, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle

In this week’s Taco, Tequila, and Torah Tuesdays, Rabbi Jack Melul discussed the importance of healthy living and how it relates to Judaism. In Today’s world we have easy access to a huge amount of information relating to health, whether it be books, websites, or apps. We can go on a website to diagnose ourselves (and freak ourselves out) and we can use simple apps on our phones to help us stay fit. In an instant we have a solution for any health problem right at the palm of our hand. The same applies to food. We have easy access to any food we want, not want, or think about wanting. There is an abundance of healthy food, yet obesity is as high as 40% in America, and about $147 Billion is spent on obesity related health care per year.

The truth is, the more you read and the more information you find, the more confused you become in regards to health, exercise, and food. Information is constantly updated and different beliefs and new trends are always popping up, making it difficult to know what is the right thing for you and your body. There is a concept called constraint satisfaction. For example, you are in the mood for cereal. You go to a store that offers four different types of cereal and choose one. On a different day when you feel like having cereal you go to a big super market offering 20 different types of cereal and you choose one. When are you happier with your choice? The answer is, the first time. The more options you have the less happy you are with the decision. You are left feeling unsure that you made the right choice. The same applies for choosing what is healthy for your body when there are so many different options out there you are left confused. This is a new phenomena called “conflicting health messages”. See here.

So how does this all relate to Judaism? Judaism has a lot to say about the health of the body and the soul that date back thousands of years. Maimonides (1135-1204) wrote an extensive 14-volume book that exclusively discussed health and science. However his most famous work is in his book of Jewish law, Mishna Torah. He designated one chapter discussing health (hilchot deot chapter 4). These Jewish laws are called halachot (הלכות) and those do not change from generation to generation. In his writing Maimonides talks about how the body works and what it is we need for it. In simple words he explains of a system that we can follow to ensure a healthy life style.

Keeping a healthy body is very important from a Jewish perspective, for if your body is healthy you are going in the ways of Hashem (השם) and you are doing something that is spiritual. Maimonides explains that these laws that he brings in the book of mishna torah are mostly applicable to someone with a healthy body rather than a sick body. The rules break down into three simple parts, eating, exercising, and using the bathroom. Maimonides starts off explaining a person should not eat if he is not hungry, should not drink if not thirsty, and should not hold their bowels even for a second. The question is isn’t that obvious? Do we need Maimonides to tell me that as underlying principle of health? The answer is that maimonides is telling us to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!

So how does one follow these three rules? Simple, when eating chew your food and take your time, the more broken down a food is, the easier it is for the body to digest. In addition, you should be enjoying what you are eating, the longer you eat it, the longer you enjoy it, the more satisfied your body becomes, and the fuller you stay. When it comes to exercising, you should make sure your body moves each day. To know if the exercise is good listen to your body. It is good if you are breathing deeper and sweating. It is not good if something is hurting, your facial expression shows pain, and you stop sweating.

There is a great meaning to facial expression. In Hebrew face means panim (פנים) which comes from the word pnim (פנים) meaning inside. Your facial expression shows the way you feel on the inside. The most important thing with exercise is to be happy, when you are happy your soul rejoices, and a healthy soul helps keep a healthy body. Maimonides says that a ball game is one of the best exercises, for it is a part of a team, it gives you a goal, you are distracted, and you enjoy it more. Lastly, keeping bowels in your body means keeping dirt in your body, using the bathroom and cleaning it out helps you keep a clean body and as a result a healthy body. There is a reason our bodies are designed to process and release waste.

A few little things to keep in mind, Maimonides also says that you should drink little when you eat, do not eat before you work out because the body would have to work even harder, work out in the morning and then feed your body through out the day, and relax after you eat. Healthy living also applies to stress. Maimonides viewed stress as the following:

6 things to help stress management and increase strength:
1. Drink wine in moderation
2. Eat healthy and in proper order
3. Exercise regularly
4. Improve bad cardiac conditions
5. Manage anger
6. Be happy

10 things that increase stress and increase weakness:
1. Fasting
2. No sleep
3. Anxiety
4. Emotional strain
5. Anger
6. Constant desire for woman
7. Lust for money
8. Lust for power
9. Lack of peace
10. Jealousy

I would like to add that Maimonides himself says “all of this must be taken in moderation” an obsession with sports is also unhealthy.
The above information is constantly talked about in today’s society and is simple and common sense rules for living healthy. Judaism has taught it for thousands of years and continues to teach it so that you achieve a healthy body, mind, and soul.