Body, Soul and Preparing for Pesach | Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld

Food is always a Jewish topic, and this period of time from Purim to Pesach has a particularly intense focus on food and opportunities to overindulge.

The Rambam famously says (Deos 4:15) that achilah gasah (overeating) is unhealthy and everyone knows that keeping healthy is makes good sense. But to what extent is a healthy body per se a Torah issue?

Anyone who suspects that health and fitness is only a modern concern might consider the Talmud’s opinion:

Rav Huna said to his son Rabah, Why aren’t you a disciple of Rav Chisda, whose teachings are sharp? He said, Why should I – whenever I go, he lectures me on mundane matters. For example, he said to me, “One who enters a latrine should not sit down suddenly nor strain himself, for the rectum sits on three teeth, and overstraining can cause these teeth to become dislodged and put a person in danger.” He said, He’s immersed in matters of health and you call them mundane? All the more so should you go to him! Shabbos 82a

This Talmudic ethic echoes a midrashic warning that the vast majority of people die prematurely due to neglecting their health and well-being:

Ninety-nine percent die before their time due to neglecting their health. – Midrash Raba

When I first learned about the mitzvah of guarding your health, many questions came to mind: What are the parameters of the mitzvah? Is it possible that the ultimate guide to ethics and holiness includes guidance on food, exercise and other specific health topics? Might the Torah’s approach to health provide guidance in addressing major public health challenges such as obesity and COVID-19?

Years of researching these questions in the Torah literature has culminated in a collection of over sixty major teachings, some of which have never before been translated. The health topics covered by the Torah include:

  • Holy eating
  • Healthy eating
  • Sugar, obesity and healthy weight
  • Special Jewish food challenges
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Chinuch (raising children with healthy habits)

The first step on this journey is to develop a Torah-guided relationship to the guf (body). Mastering this framework is the key to long-term changes. Changing a habit temporarily is relatively easy. Long-term sustained change in even a single habit is one of the hardest challenges in life. Motivation is key, and learning this framework will hopefully lead to an increase in overall well-being for all who make a modicum of effort. In the long term, a healthier guf-relationship should lead to a longer life that is more thoughtful, disciplined, spiritual, and elevated.

Despite these inspiring Torah sources, anyone (myself certainly included) can sometimes lack motivation to consistently pursue healthy daily living. At such times, I personally try to recall the words of chizuk from Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch:

A person can only reach his fullest spiritual potential if he is physically strong, per the Talmud, Shabbat 92a.[1]

As much as preparing for Pesach is a food challenge, it’s also an opportunity. Every time you consciously make something even slightly healthier – by reducing the sugar, or increasing the vegetables – you’re fulfilling a mitzvah. When you encourage healthy habits in children, you’re giving them a lifelong gift. Chag kasher v’sameach v’bari!


Adapted from the book, Body & Soul: The Torah Path to Food, Fitness and a Healthy Life. To contact the author, please visit or follow the Body & Soul shiur on Torah Anytime.

  1. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), comment to Bamidbar/Num 13:16, emphasis added.
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