“The Rambam” (Maimonidies) is one of history’s greatest physicians and most recognized sages. His principles on the body and soul in relationship to health and medicine date back to the Middle Ages. Since his death in 1204, much of what The Rambam taught and spoke about is still very relevant for all of us to apply in the modern day world.
In addition to his volumes of books on Jewish law, The Rambam was known for his teachings on the subjects of health and healing, including much commentary on Moses and Hippocrates.
The Rambam viewed the physical body and soul as one. He referred to the soul as the main component of each human being. From his perspective, illness is often related to a needed soul correction. He believed many physical ailments could be treated not only by medicine, but through spiritual and moral growth.
We learn from the Rambam that in order to achieve optimal health, we need to focus on seeing the body as a whole. For example, being extremely spiritual or religious without proper attention to caring for the physical body will not allow us to reach our highest potential. Some religious people find playing sports as frivolous because those activities take away from prayer or studying. This way of thinking contributes to a sedentary lifestyle. Additionally overindulging with food and alcohol on happy spiritual occasions is very common and even some feel that it’s customary. Although celebrations are a part of spiritual elevation, there is a fine line between pleasure and gluttony.
While attention to healthy diet and exercise is not always seen as a priority in religious circles, The Rambam who was one of the world’s most well known and respected Rabbi’s had this to say…
“Since a healthy and whole body is in keeping with the service to G-d, since it is impossible to understand or know anything about G-d when one is sick, therefore one must distance himself from those things which ruin the body and instead should accustom himself to those things which cause the body to heal and mend...”
“One should only eat when he is hungry and drink only when he’s thirsty. One should not eat until his stomach is full but should eat rather around a quarter less than his fill.”
“One is to "exercise and exert oneself greatly." “As long as one exercises, exerts oneself greatly and does not eat to the point of being full…he will not suffer sickness and he will grow in strength.”
On the flipside, someone who exercises regularly and has a flawless diet yet lives a stressed, unhappy existence or strives to only improve the physical self while neglecting the spiritual/emotional self will also be imbalanced. On a deeper level, this is when the soul is unfulfilled and it presents in our physical well-being.
The Rambam also teaches us to reflect on the way we treat others and it’s not just for the sake of being nice. Performing good deeds and possessing noble qualities such as generosity, courage, kindness and patience are what he found to be formulas for maintaining a healthy body and soul.