Practice Self Care: It’s a Mitzvah!
Happy 2017! If you are like me and millions of other Americans, you have recently made New Year’s resolutions. According to NBC News, the top eight most popular categories of 2017 resolutions focused on self-care. As I made my own resolution to go to sleep and exercise more, I found myself asking, “The world is in so much pain! What right do I have to focus on myself, when I could be doing something to make things easier for others?”
This got me wondering: What does Judaism have to say about self-care? Is it a right, a responsibility, or something to beware of overdoing? I will speak more about this on Friday, but I share the following story as an initial response, a midrash (legend) from Leviticus Rabbah.
Once, Rabbi Hillel the Elder went walking, and his disciples followed him. “Where are you going?” they asked him.”
He answered, “I am going to perform a mitzvah.”
“What mitzvah?,” they inquired.
Said Rabbi Hillel, “I am going to the bath house [a Greek institution normally avoided by Jews, which often had statues of Greek gods within].
“The bathhouse?!” shouted the students. “How could going to the bathhouse be a mitzvah?!”
“It is a mitzvah, indeed,” answered Rabbi Hillel. “We have statues of the King set up in theaters and circuses, and the city hires officials to scour them and wash them down so they look clean, shiny, and beautiful. How much more so am I required to scour and wash myself. We are each created in the image of God, in the likeness of God. We are all God’s representatives of the world, and are preservers of God’s image. How much more so are we required to keep ourselves clean, shiny, and beautiful, as it is written, “In the image of God was humankind made’ (Genesis 9:6).”
Like me, Hillel’s students doubt that it could be holy or pious to focus on caring for one’s physical being. Yet, as Rabbi Hillel teaches, we are each created in the image of God, God’s representatives in the world. Of course, there is a line between self-care and self-indulgence, and we must not be so focused on our appearance as to forget how we treat one another, But, by honoring ourselves as worthy and beautiful creations, we honor our creator.
May we all be blessed to care for ourselves generously in 2017,