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Weekly Jewish Wisdom

August 18, 2016

Going for Gold

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 unwell...
— Maimonides, "Laws of Character," 4:1

Has watching the Olympics inspired you to exercise or stretch your fitness goals? I've been pondering this question for the last two weeks and have sadly concluded that I've actually spent more time as a couch potato in front of the TV during the Olympics than I have all year. Having said that, I do feel nightly awe at the way human beings can push the body to be stronger, faster, more agile and more disciplined. Watching these athletes is almost a religious experience.
 
In many faith traditions, the body and soul are regarded as fierce adversaries. The soul is trapped in the body or a victim of the body's desires. The body pushes the soul off the straight and narrow track. This has hardly been the Jewish way. The body is a holy vessel that holds the soul. As such it needs careful tending. Many rabbis over the centuries have pointed to two verses in the beginning of Deuteronomy as proof that we must not harm the body, and we must take excellent care of it. "Do take utmost care and watch over yourselves scrupulously..." [4:9] and "Carefully guard your souls..." (4:15). The Olympics this year happens to converge with the reading of these verses. Coincidence? Maybe not.
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