Health is always a relevant topic, but recently it has been the overarching topic on the minds of practically all of humanity. That, we’ve learned, is pandemic life.

Besides the survival instinct that compels us to make healthy choices, many may be surprised to hear that staying healthy is also a Mitzvah (commandment) stated in the Torah, albeit not explicitly.

Moses, in his lengthy discourse before his passing, exhorts the Jewish people not to forget the revelation at Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Torah. On this he says, “Vnishmartem M’eod L’Nafshoseichem – Guard your souls, very much (Deut. 4:15).” The Talmud (Brachos 32b) cites this as the source for watching your health.

Now, this seems odd. Not only is this not an explicit commandment to watch your health, it seems to have nothing at all to do with physical health — only spiritual health!

Let’s translate the verse above more carefully, and literally: “Vnishmartem M’eod L’Nafshoseichem – And you should guard, very much, for your souls.” The guarding Moses referred to was something for your soul, not of the soul. From here the Sages derive that Moses’ instructions were to do a service for the soul. What sort of watching is a service one can do for their soul? They can watch their health! (See Netziv in Ha’emek Davar)

The Torah did not need to tell us to watch our health merely to survive. That’s a natural instinct. Indeed, some have this instinctive drive more than others! The lesson is to channel and enhance that drive for a higher purpose. Eat healthy, exercise, (and vaccinate) so you can have the strength, intellect, and extra days and years to pursue spiritual goals in full capacity.