The dangers of trying to be overly healthy, a phenomenon dubbed by some as orthorexia, result from people trying to be so healthy that it is unhealthy. They become obsessed with what they eat and leave out essential components of a standard diet because they consider certain food groups to be unhealthy, and their gauge of what is deemed healthy becomes warped. If we could describe this phenomenon differently, their pursuit of a healthy balanced diet is too extreme. Even moderation requires moderation.
In this week’s Parsha, Yaakov arrives in Shalem. The Talmud (Shabbat 33b) comments:
שלם בגופו שלם בממונו שלם בתורתו – Intact bodily, intact monetarily, and intact in his Torah.
שלם בגופו – Rashi explains that Yaakov’s limp was healed after the incident with his struggle with the angel.
Rambam (Hilchot Deot, 1:4) seems to have a different approach. He writes:
“לפיכך צוו חכמים הראשונים שיהא אדם שם דעותיו תמיד ומשער אותם ומכוין
אותם בדרך האמצעית כדי שיהא שלם בגופו.”
“Therefore, the early Sages instructed a man to evaluate his traits, to calculate them and to direct them along the middle path, so that he will be sound of body.”
According to Rambam, the term שלם בגופו refers to Tikkun hamidot and leading a life of balanced Middot (character traits). Yet, Rambam uses this term again later (ibid 4:1):
“הואיל והיות הגוף בריא ושלם … לפיכך צריך להרחיק אדם עצמו מדברים המאבדין את הגוף ולהנהיג עצמו בדברים המברין והמחלימין.”
“Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God – for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator, if he is ill – therefore, he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger.”
Rambam then proceeds to give a rigorous list of foods one should and shouldn’t eat, and how to eat them, how much one should sleep, how much one should exercise, and other rules.
Rambam’s two interpretations of שלם בגופו are not contradictory. One can be a stable, balanced individual who sticks to a diet because it is healthy. However, following a set of rules like a strict diet shouldn’t become an obsession or the guiding force in one’s life. If one allows health habits to conflict with the שלם בגופו of one’s Middot, that there is a problem. If the שלם בגופו of Middot doesn’t win that conflict, even the שלם בגופו of health habits becomes unhealthy.
This Sunday, Dec 6th, at 10 am, pG we will be hosting a memorial tribute for the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l via zoom, and hear words of inspiration and chizuk from his successor current Chief of the UK, Chief Rabbi Mirvis.
Rabbi Sacks epitomized the delicate balance in all areas, maintaining a sense of pride as a religious Torah-scholar, deep thinker and leading philosopher and academic.
I hope you will be joining us for what will be a fantastic event.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay