The rabbis claim that the purpose of a healthy body is to gain wisdom. I believe the purpose of a healthy body is also to nurture compassion. Both wisdom and compassion heal the soul of the individual and the community. These virtues—wisdom and compassion—enable individuals and communities to thrive healthily and in harmony. So the purpose of the body is to be healthy in order to attain wisdom and compassion.
The purpose of the body: to grow in wisdom
In my health and wellness study, The Ten Guiding Lights to Health and Wholeness, I deemphasize weight loss. I also do not stress feeling good for the sake of feeling good or being fit for the sake of looking good. Feeling good and looking good are important, but they are lasting when they are by-products or the results of wisdom.
We know a lot more about the body, nutrition, health—life in general—than we did twenty years ago. Now we have to be able to make sense of all of this knowledge in order to improve our life and the lives of others. This, I believe, is wisdom.
When God asked King Solomon what he desired, King Solomon requested wisdom. Because Solomon did not ask for riches, wealth, glory, the death of his enemies, or even long life, God granted Solomon’s request and gave him a bonus:
God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have” (2 Chronicles 1:11).
If God were to ask you what you desire, would you ask for wisdom?
Solomon was wise to ask for wisdom, for in getting wisdom, he received everything else.
Thanks to technology, we are overloaded with information daily. There is so much information on health and wellness. There are over 150 diets. There is a plethora of pathways to healing—nature-based therapeutics, positive visualization, creative arts, mindfulness and more. There are tons of exercise programs, equipment, gadgets, apps, the list goes on and on. Add to these, the different schools of thought—psychology, neuroscience and sociology. And let’s not forget the fact that each human body is different. Most people are looking for a comprehensive plan or program, a formula or panacea that would bring healing and health—without too much work.
The truth is that there is a lot of baggage that comes with this body that disappoints, rejects, and burdens some of us. Understanding the body is not easy. We are complex beings enclosed in skin and flesh.
Hence, to live healthily on this earth is a life-long journey, one that involves your purpose. It’s complex and you will need wisdom to guide and lead you. No matter what “they” market, your path is unique. However, the Bible—the book of ancient wisdom— contains guiding lights that you can use to find your way to health and healing. If you are fortunate to attain wisdom, then, you will find happiness as well:
Happy [blessed, considered fortunate, to be admired] is the man who finds [skillful and godly] wisdom,
For wisdom’s profit is better than the profit of silver,
And her gain is better than fine gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
And nothing you can wish for compares with her [in value].
So, again I ask, what is it you desire? Can it compare to the value of wisdom?
Long life is in her right hand;
In her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are highways of pleasantness and favor,
When you possess wisdom, you will also discover a healthy body. Your health will be your wealth.
And all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy [blessed, considered fortunate, to be admired] is everyone who holds her tightly.
You will have peace of mind and well-being.
So, again I ask, what is it you desire?
The Lord by His wisdom has founded the earth…(Proverbs 3:13-19).
If God founded the earth on wisdom, what would it look like if you founded your life on wisdom?
What choices would you make?
Is it a surprise, then, that scientific studies are associating wisdom with successful aging? “In fact, wisdom is more robustly linked to the well-being of older people than objective life circumstances such as physical health, financial well-being, and physical environment,” says psychologist Dr. Ben Dean.
A part of growing in wisdom is to comprehend your body—to learn how to feed and exercise it in order to maximize its energy and to fulfill your God-given purpose, which should always involve others. Your goal should be to grow in wisdom. Some ways to develop wisdom in this area are to:
- Read books from trained health and wellness experts
- Read about health and wellness pioneers. See Cal Samra’s book—In Pursuit of Health and Longevity: Wellness Pioneers Through the Centuries.
- Find out what God says about the body, including the mind, food, life, etc.
- Take a class on nutrition and/or exercise.
- Physically challenge yourself—walk/run a 5k, compete in a fitness competition, take up a new sport or activity.
- Keep an open heart and mind. Listen and learn.
However, the application of wisdom requires compassion.
When a mother has to give a crying, sick child medicine that is bitter, she does it not to inflict more pain on her child but rather because she wants her child to be well. She soothes the child by embracing and rocking the child back and forth with words of comfort.
Wisdom and compassion function in almost the same way. You have to do what’s healthy for yourself even though the task or action may be unpleasant. Compassion is a form of love and wisdom is the application to do what is right.
The purpose of the body: to grow in compassion
Today, most healthcare workers and care managers also realize how essential compassion is in treating a human being. Compassion is not pity or commiseration. “Compassion can be defined as the sensitivity shown in order to understand another person’s suffering, combined with a willingness to help and to promote the wellbeing of that person, in order to find a solution to their situation,” according to Health Navigator. I particularly liked this definition because of the words I have emboldened. Redemptive suffering is at the core of the Christian faith. It is Christ’s suffering for you that brings about your health and healing. He models for us compassion, patience, gentleness, and forgiveness. You are to treat yourself and others in that same way.
Unless you have learned to show compassion toward yourself, how can you show compassion to others? Jesus paraphrases the Hebrew ninth commandment—which says do not testify falsely against your neighbor—by enjoining us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Your view of your neighbor is a mirror image of yourself. In the story below, a rabbi sees himself as one of his workers and decides to share in their discomfort:
A group of workers was once hired to finish an urgent job on a few days’ notice, in time for the new z’man. Since the workers lived at a distance, and it was necessary for them to work long hours to complete their job on time, the administration offered to allow them to sleep in one of the yeshivah buildings. Mattresses were provided, but the workmen found their accommodations uncomfortable and were unable to fall asleep. Suddenly, at one o’clock in the morning, the rosh yeshivah, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, entered the room. “Do you mind if I stay here with you?” he asked.
“You should go to sleep; there’s no reason for you to stay here with us,” the workmen’s supervisor protested.
But Rav Shmuel shook his head. “As I passed by, I saw that you were having difficulty sleeping,” he explained. “It makes me feel terrible that you are losing sleep because you are working for me. Knowing that, I feel that I can’t sleep, either.”
The rosh yeshivah remained with the workmen throughout the night, alternating between conversing with them and learning from his sefarim, until seven in the morning. When the workmen later shared this story with others, they commented that the rosh yeshivah had made them feel very important, and that they had sensed that he truly cared.
You cannot have compassion on others unless you have learned to have compassion for yourself. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with respect and dignity. When you learn to treat yourself as a human being with respect, you treat others likewise just like the rabbi, Rav Shmuel, demonstrated.
The purpose of the body: to produce a healthy community
When people feel cared for, we have healthier communities. There is overwhelming evidence that compassion is good for your health and thus community. It boosts your well-being because you become other-focused rather than me-focused. Studies have linked depression and anxiety with a preoccupation with me, myself and I. Compassion also serves as a glue to connect us to one another. Think of the many catastrophes we have experienced nationally or globally, from 9/11 to the earthquake in Haiti. Compassion makes us feel connected. In fact, one study shows that compassion is so important that a lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.
It is vital, therefore, that any in-depth health and wellness study should seek to encourage its participants to develop self-compassion and compassion toward others. If not, communities would need to be constrained by the ninth commandment, which says, “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Who is your neighbor? The answer is everybody.