A new year is filled with the promise of fresh starts and new beginnings. It’s also a time when many people take an opportunity to reflect inward and recommit to improving their health and wellbeing.
In Judaism, health and wellness are held in high esteem, and the Torah commands us to respect our bodies and prioritize our wellness, viewing these acts as holy. Maimonides, a medieval Sephardic Jewish physician who became one of the most prominent Torah scholars of his time, described the purpose of Torah law as guiding “the wellbeing of the body and the wellbeing of the soul.” The connection between physical health and spirituality is embedded within Judaism, ranging from the rules of kashrut to viewing the body as a sacred vessel of the soul. There is a story in which Rabbi Hillel noted how important it was to care for one’s body since we are “created in the divine image and likeness.” Judaism teaches us that we are responsible for caring for the gift of our bodies – and so maintaining our health becomes a positive act.
Health and wellness extend far beyond individual decisions and one person’s efforts. Judaism emphasizes a holistic perspective on wellness, viewing the mind, body and soul as intertwined with one another. I would add that the health and wellbeing of the community contribute to the wellness of the mind, body and soul of the individual.
What is a healthy community? Healthy communities are built on the relationships that we nurture and the efforts that we make to work through the problems we encounter along the way. It is also about celebrating our successes as a community. A community must provide for all of its members’ spiritual and physical needs.
Another area that is significantly tied to health and wellbeing is in the social support that we derive from our communities. Social support, or close relationships with family and friends, has been linked to improving the health of the mind, body and soul in many ways. Social support is not something that one person can do by themselves, and it is not something that can be developed with New Year’s resolutions to go to the gym more or begin a new diet; it is only something that can be achieved when multiple people work to bring a community together.
Community engagement and individual health share a reciprocal relationship: attending yoga classes at the JCC or swimming in the pool every morning are ways to focus on mind and body health, whereas involvement in Jewish organizations, attending community events and participating in Jewish life focus on spiritual health. Likewise, investing oneself in the community, either by donating financially or with your time and energy, addresses the health of the community, building and creating a vibrant Jewish community that, in turn, contributes to the health and wellbeing of the members.
This month (and in the months to come), there will be multiple events and opportunities to focus on the health and well-being of our Jewish community and to enjoy the benefits of the social support that comes from a strengthened community. Our annual Super Sunday phone-a-thon on Jan. 26 is one such opportunity to donate financially and will include an afternoon of mitzvah activities to benefit those around us. In 2020, as you consider your own personal resolutions, I encourage you to consider contributing to the health and well-being of our community in ways that matter to you!