The Key to Long Life?

According to new research by Yeshiva University scientists, genes are the key to longevity. That’s a fancy way of saying, “How long we live isn’t up to us,” which of course means, how long we live is up to G-d, the ultimate Arbiter as well as Creator and Distributor of said genes.

Ann Wigmore, whose pioneering and controversial work in nutrition, was incredibly vital and healthy at 86 years old when she died of smoke inhalation from a fire. Aveline Kushi, wife and partner of Michio Kushi, the father of the American Macrobiotic movement also known as the “cancer diet”, died of cancer at age 78. The list goes on and on.

So, if longevity is up to G-d, why should we bother eating right? Why not simply satisfy our desires and cravings? Pizza, pickles, crème fraiche-topped chocolate pudding, 14 oz. steaks…whatever.

Because the Torah tells us that we must guard our health. Most of us, if we eat foods that aren’t right for us, develop a host of complaints ranging from digestive problems to heartburn to skin problems—even difficulty concentrating.

Also, we have to do some critical analysis. I know other people who were committed to the Macrobiotic or Living Foods or other nutrition approaches and who developed diseases, even cancer, after they had been eating this way for years! This doesn’t mean that the diet didn’t help them—maybe it even prevented the illness from becoming worse than was.

According to a holistic Torah approach, every event in our lives, including an illness, is a direct, personal message from G-d. Is G-d telling us that He’s the boss and that we simply don’t control the key to health and long life? Is He telling us that we need to examine ourselves and our actions, perhaps change direction in our lives? Can we look at the part of the body that is affected (the blood, the brain, the skin, the intestines, etc.), and find a hidden message there? How is the form of the body and the soul connected? Can physical healing take place via the spiritual realm?

There are some fascinating, if somewhat esoteric, books on the subject. One of the best is Body, Mind and Soul by HaRav Yitzchak Ginsburgh. It presupposes some Torah knowledge but offers lucid explorations of disease and the body-mind-soul connection.

Another is Torah, Light, and Healing by Matityahu Glazerson which contains mystical insights into healing based on the Hebrew language as used in Torah, Talmud and Kabbala.

Another favorite of mine is Anatomy of the Soul, by Chaim Kramer which is based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. The chapter on The Bloodstream, for example, explains how the bloodstream “serves as a person’s internal system of justice,” and the chapter on The Liver, Gallbladder and Spleen explains how depression manifests itself powerfully through the pursuit of wealth, and how this relates to the spleen.

In other words, G-d communicates moral, spiritual, and emotional messages to us through our anatomy and its operations. By paying attention, we may be able to discern the reasons for physical discomfort, for bodily processes, and G-d forbid, for illness, and pain.

According to Rebbe Nachman, the cure for most illness (not all), is praying with perfect emunah (faith), which sounds so simple but actually is a tremendous spiritual accomplishment. Also according to Rebbe Nachman, the Rambam (Maimonides), and many other Jewish teachers, feeding the body incorrectly (especially over-stuffing it) harms the neshama (the soul) as well as the body.

So on the one hand, the key to longevity is not in our hands at all; on the other, we are required to protect our health by eating right and living a generally healthy lifestyle.

More on this topic and a discussion of IBS, diet, and the mind-body-soul connection, coming soon.

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