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Is your body your friend or your enemy?

What kind of relationship do you have with your body?

For some, their body is their best friend. Those blessed with a healthy body and good physique will often see their body as a treasure and invest many hours to make it even better.

On the other hand, some feel that their body acts like an enemy. Those who are aging, experiencing a health challenge or suffering from physical disabilities may feel that the body is betraying them and not functioning as it should.

So which one is it? And how does Judaism view the body: is it a friend or an enemy?

The answer is neither.

Actually, both.

According to Judaism the body is our frenemy.

On one hand, the body is consumed with being its physical and materialistic self. If we want to pursue some high spiritual goals, the body will do what it can to pull us down.

Have you ever tried to study Torah late at night, just to hear the body just laugh and say “Hehe, I am shutting down now. Good night”.

And during the Neilah, when all we want is to use the last moments of Yom Kippur to feel closer to G-d, the body insists on filling our mind with thoughts of the sliced lox that awaits us in the break fast.

It seems that the body is a clear enemy of spirituality.

Not so fast.

The Baal Shem Tov taught how to find the right attitude towards the body in one verse in this week’s Parsha.

The Torah describes what we should do if we see the donkey of our enemy collpased under its burden.

“You would (think to) refrain from helping him, (yet) you shall surely help along with him!”

In Hebrew, the word donkey (“Chamor”) includes the letters Ches, Mem, Reish, the same letters used to describe materiality (“Chomer”).

In addition to the literal translation of the verse, the Baal Shem Tov interpreted the verse as follows:

When you look at your material body, you might see it as your enemy and refrain from helping it; instead, the right approach is to help the body and not break it through mortification (Hayom Yom, 28 Shevat).

After all, without the body we cannot do Mitzvah. If we want to walk to Shul, we need our legs. To wrap Tefillin, light the Shabbat candles or give Tzedakah (charity), we need our arms and hands. To learn Torah, we need our brain, and so on.

So the body is the ultimate frenemy: while we can suspect its motives, we should always treat it with respect, and if we do it smartly, we can benefit enormously from this relationship.

May we all enjoy good health – physical health, emotional health and spiritual health!

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of Chabad.org.
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