It’s Time To Talk About Taking Health Seriously

Article by Rabbi Gershon Avtzon: It was during this saga, that I realized something: After over 10 years in Cincinnati, I didn’t even have a primary Doctor! I, like many young adults, was living in an illusion that annual visits to a doctor are for “old people.”

By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon – Rosh Yeshivas Lubavitch Cincinnati

There are certain events that take place that you will always remember where you were when the event occurred. One of those events was a phone-call that  I received from a dear friend on a Sunday night in 5777. 

I was in Crown Heights, for the “Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos”, and received the call from Rabbi Chaim Schneur Zalman Baras A”H. 

In addition to being the main Mashpia in our Yeshiva, he was one of my closest friends since my youth. We have been in the same class in United Lubavitch Yeshiva (Ocean Parkway) since we were in kindergarten and attended the same camps. We also went on MIvtzoim together every friday, on our “route”, for many years. I picked up the phone and all he said was three words: “Shalosh Kelipos Hatmeios”.

Some background: For a while before, he had been experiencing some back pain and discomfort. After trying to change the position that he would sit and rest, to no avail, he went to the Dr. the previous Friday who told him to get some scans done at the local hospital. He was now calling me with results: They had (lo ALeinu) found “Yenne Machla” in his body. After two years of different treatments, and many Tefillos, he returned his pure Neshama to Hashem on 30 Adar 1 5779 (Today is his Yahrtzeit and may this article be L’Ilui NIshmaso).

It was during this saga, that I realized something: After over 10 years in Cincinnati, I didn’t even have a primary Doctor! I, like many young adults, was living in an illusion that annual visits to a doctor are for “old people” and that young people are guaranteed to be healthy and live well. Seeing first-hand what my friend was experiencing shattered my illusion. 

When I finally found a proper doctor, another one of my previous illusions were shattered: I “found out” that the food that we eat has a tremendous effect on our long-term health. 

As Bochurim, we tend to eat a lot of junk-food (snacks, Farbaisen by Farbrengens), drink sugar-filled Soda and energy drinks, and develop other very unhealthy habits (drinking or smoking etc). At that age, we don’t always see the results of these habits on our bodies right away. But when one gets a little older, our unhealthy habits put many of us at risk for obesity, diabetes and other diseases. 

At a certain point, we – especially yungeleit – must realize that we have a “Chov Kadosh-sacred responsibility” to take care of our health. We have a responsibility to our families, communities and our Shlichus to do all we can to be in the best position to care for them. While in life there are no guarantees, we must do our part. The Rebbe often quotes the Rambam (Hilchos Deos 3:3 and 4:1): “Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of serving Hashem, 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.”

I would like to share a true story (that I heard from Makor Rishon) that took place this past 20 Av:

 A group of Chassidim were at a Farbrengen with a very prominent Shliach who had turned 50 in recent years. This Shliach is relatively health conscious and is very active in his community. At the Farbrengen say a young member of Anash that did not have a beard. The Shliach was demanding of this yungerman to start growing his beard. The Yungerman looked at him and told him that if the Shliach agrees to get a Colonoscopy (a test for Yenne Machla that is recommended for all people above 50) he will grow his beard. The Shliach, who did not have any health concerns and was not planning on taking this test, agreed.

A few months ago, the test was performed and the results came back. The Dr. called the Shliach and told him that it is a miracle that he came in to take the test. They had “found something” in his body and if it would have been left untreated it could have developed into a life-threatening situation. B”H it was found and treated. In addition to seeing the power of a Chassidishe Farbrengen, we see the importance of being aware of the necessary health precautions and interventions that are needed. 

This includes the importance of exercise. I have heard that in some Yeshivos, especially in Eretz Yisroel, the talmidim are not allowed to play outdoor activities by the breaks. I do not know the history, or the reasons behind it, but exercise is a very important aspect to health and a very good outlet for the youthful energy that our Tallmidim have. If the energy is not let out on the playing field, it usually gets let out on the walls and property of the Yeshiva.

May we only share in Simchas and merit ever-lasting health and life with the Hisgalus of the Rebbe MH”M Now!

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the above with me by sending me a personal email: [email protected]

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  1. I’m sure Rabbi Avtzon has researched the Rebbe’s shitah, can you share sources that it is mutar to go to a check up if someone is not sick?
    All we know from the Gemara is that מכאן שניתן רשות לרופא לרפאות, meaning if someone is already sick they can go to a doctor (and like Rashi points out, we don’t have to rely on miracles) but if someone isn’t sick, is it allowed to visit a doctor?
    Thank you!

    1. There’s a video of the Rebbe telling a doctor that now doctors are very busy dealing with illness, but in the future (maybe He said Moshiach?) doctors will focus on prevention.

    2. You don’t know what you don’t know. You can be very sick and have no idea becuase symptoms present late and by that point it’s too late. This attitude reminds me of bochrim who won’t do dor yehshorim on the basis that it distorts hasgocha protis. Especially young people should get checked out for skin yene machla which is very dangerous and deadly in younger people.

    3. This is something many doctors who had yechidus say (that the Rebbe spoke to them about preventive medicine). In fact, they say the Rebbe was ahead of his time on this.

      In many letters, the Rebbe tells people to take vaccines. Vaccines by definition are preventive medicine.

      And the way you learned the gemara is קרום.

  2. Such an article is long overdue, it is great that it finally is coming out! I would add that siman 32 of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is all about taking care of one’s health (though he does take a lot from the Rambam he does add other things) though it says נשתנו הטבעים, this is not true about all of it, there are some foundational halachos that most doctors and nutritionists would agree to! I showed it to a very educated older doctor and he was surprised how accurate it is!
    When I was in Zal in Baltimore, there was a frum doctor that came during lunch break 3 times to do exercise with whoever wanted for about 20 minutes! I believe the rebbe encouraged certain to take walks and it was encouraged to go swimming weekly! I think it should be portrayed as something important for chassidishe bochurim as well!

  3. Is the Rebbe in favor of genetic testing? There is a genetic condition ( Lynch syndrome) which predisposes carriers to a more prevalent chance of certain conditions, which might show up on a colonoscopy or an exam by a gyn.

    1. We can’t guess the rebbes perspective on thing…but we know that the rebbe was for everyone having a mashpia and rofei yedid…so ask your rofei yedi!

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