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Thought for the Day: Dealing With Spiritual Illness

I was off the derech yesterday... "off the D", as they say.  It wasn't so bad, I just had to mostly rest my knee, but also apply appropriate pressure to get it back in 100% working order.  I was able to handle this one myself, not like 18 years ago.  Whew!  That was so far off the derech that I needed professional intervention; three months of intense chemotherapy, a couple of blood transfusions, and then months of recovery and monitoring.

What's that you say?  Sounds more like illness and muscle strain than "off the derech"?  Yes.  In case you hadn't caught my drift, let me be explicit: I am making a point.  The Rambam, in Hilchos Dei'os, begins by noting:
  1. When a person is physically sick, things that are sweet taste bitter and things that are bitter taste sweet.
  2. The symptoms of spiritual illness are that things that are good for us seem bad and things that are destructive seem good.
From that point on, the Rambam treats spiritual and physical ailments, spiritual and physical health on equal footings.  The Rambam says that most ailments can be traced to either over eating or lack of exercise.  In a broader sense, he means (I believe), over indulging ta'avos (physical or spiritual) and lack of discipline/mussar (again, physical or spiritual).  The goal is not to be a religious person who exercises, nor a fitness buff who prays.  The healthy Jew engages in appropriate vigorous physical activity, intense prayer, deep torah study.  He also practices moderation in eating, sleeping, tzedaka, chesed, etc.  Any extremes are to be avoided, except to be extremely moderate.

And now to come full circle.  When my knee was aching, I was in pain... the whole me.  When I had cancer, I was in mortal danger... the whole me.  Klal Yisrael is one organism.  Complex, multi-faceted, extended over space and time; but one organism none the less.  When one Jew is ailing, Klal Yisrael is sick.  "Off the derech" means you got lost on your way to your in-laws.  A Jew who is not keeping Torah and mitvos is dangerously ill -- and that means Klal Yisrael is ailing.  Every Jew who increases his observance and care in keeping Torah and mitzvos is improving the health of the entire Klal Yisrael.

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