Rabbi Nechemya Taylor
Torani Advisor to Torah Mitzion


In the previous article, we started to discuss the rationale behind taking care of our bodies. We cited the Tzitz Eliezer z”tl (21:8) to the effect that maintaining good health allows us to fulfill the commandment to constantly understand and be connected to the Creator of the world. A sick person is unable to perform this obligation.

An additional explanation is based on the Rambam (Hilchot Rotzeach 1:4), who writes:

“And the court is warned not to take a ransom from the murderer – even if he gave all the money in the world and even if the bloodredeemer wishes to let him off – because the soul of the murdered one is not the property of the blood-redeemer but of HKB”H.”

The Mahari Veil (61) adds:

“One who kills a soul – the blood-redeemer should not take money from the murderer and forgive him, and this is the language of the Rambam in Hilchot Rotzeach that ‘the court is warned not to take ransom from the murderer…’

And from this reason, it appears [to apply] even if the murderer returned and repented.”

According to the Rambam, there is no way for the murderer to shirk his punishment, because a person’s soul does not belong to him. Rather, his soul is simply placed in his trust, and he is required to protect it. Based on this view, the Mahari Veil notes that teshuva for murder is not accepted.

The Ridbaz (Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:6) adds:

“But the Sanhedrin does not put to death or give lashes to one who confesses his sin, lest his mind went insane in this matter… And the rule of the matter is a decree of the King.”

The Ridbaz (ibid) then continues:

“We learn that one who goes to the court and says, ‘Give me lashes,’ – does not receive lashes. And here we say that every place, a person can not incriminate himself, and the reason that our Rabbi wrote does not apply to lashes. And therefore, he wrote that ‘the rule of the matter is a decree of the King.’ And we do not know the reason, but it is possible to provide a partial reason.

“A person’s soul is not his own property but that of HKB”H, as it says: ‘The souls are for Me here.’ (Yechezkel 18) Thus, there is no purpose to his confession in a matter that is not his. And lashes fall in the realm of death, but his money does belong to him. And based on this, we say that the confession of a litigator is comparable to one hundred witnesses. And just as a person may not kill himself, so too a person can not incriminate himself about a sin, which is punishable by death – because his soul is not his property. And about all this, I admit that it is the decree of the King of the world, and there is no disputing it.”

The Ridbaz thus introduces an original idea. A person cannot selfincriminate himself before a court – in cases where he could be sentenced to death or with lashes – because since his body and soul do not belong to him, he can not bring physical punishment upon himself. However, his money does belong to him, and therefore, he may confess in cases where there would be a financial punishment. As Chazal famously observed:

“The confession of a litigator is comparable to one hundred witnesses.”

Accordingly, the Baal HaTanya (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchot Nizikei Guf VaNefesh) innovates:

“It is forbidden to strike one’s friend, even if he grants permission to strike him, because a person has no authority whatsoever over his body – not to strike it and not to shame it and not to cause it pain, even by depriving it of some food or drink.”

[The Gaon Rav Shlomo Yosef Zeven already discussed this issue in his book L’Or Halacha (p. 318) with regard to Shylock’s trial in Shakespeare.]

Based on the principles that we have established – namely, that a person’s body and soul are not his personal property – it is clear that a person may not physically or emotionally harm his body or soul. Similarly, he may not place himself in either danger or even possible danger, except for in situations where the halachah expressly permits him to do so.

The Rambam (8:1) rules:

“It is forbidden for a person to injure either himself or another. And not only one who injures, but anyone who strikes an adam kasher miYisrael – whether he be a minor or an adult, a man or a woman, in a manner that leaves a mark, it is considered to be as one who transgresses a negative commandment.”

Of course, the Rambam emphasizes that it has to be “in a manner that leaves a mark.” The Igrot Moshe (Orach Chayim 3:78) notes:

“When he is granted permission to injure and he causes a small injury – if it is not accompanied by pain or mortification, this is not considered as ‘leaving a mark’ or as shaming. And when he is granted permission and he is not strict about it, this is merely playfulness. Because the negative commandment is only transgressed when a mark is left or when there is shaming, as is written in the Rambam. In any event, lashes are not applied.

“But for a large injury, which leaves a mark or includes shaming, permission may not be granted to lift the prohibition – because he may not even harm himself.”

In other words, playful boxing or wrestling would conceivably be permissible, because they do not leave marks or involve shame. However, according to the Baal HaTanya above, it would seem that while the prohibition of causing an injury does not apply in this case, there remains an additional prohibition. This is the issue of caring for one’s body, which is based on the fact that a person does not own his body. Therefore, a person may not grant permission to someone else to harm him. Obviously, this prohibition does not apply when a person is studying self-defense, because then the ultimate goal is to protect one’s body.

It should be stressed that driving in a manner which is dangerous for the driver or, even more so, the passengers – is absolutely forbidden. Similarly, this prohibition applies to non-safe trips. Our bodies were granted to us in trust, and we must protect them.

We will conclude with the Chafetz Chayim’s forceful words (Likutei Amarim 13):

“With respect to smoking cigars, we will discuss this matter a bit. Several doctors have decreed that one who is weak must not do this regularly, because it weakens his strength and sometimes even affects his soul. And I have spoken about this several times with those who are weak, and they have responded that they know and recognize themselves that smoking is difficult for them. But since they have become used to it, it is difficult for them to refrain. And I said to them: Who permitted you to let yourselves get used to it? The truth is that Chazal said (BT Bava Kama 92) that one who injures himself even though he is not permitted – is exempt (because he only has to pay himself damages). But, in any event, they did say that one is not permitted to injure himself.

“First, because of ‘And you shall take great care of your bodies.’ But also, it is the law, because the entire universe and everything in it belongs to HKB”H. For His honor, we were created, and, in His mercy, He grants each one the strength required for His Torah and His world. And how can the servant do what he wants to himself according to his own will? After all, he belongs to his Master. And if by smoking, his strengths are weakened, then certainly, he will be ultimately brought to judgment on this matter – because he did so willingly and not under duress.”

The Baal Tzitz Eliezer (15:39) adds:

“Behold, we have these inspiring words from the noted posek, the Chafetz Chayim zt”l, about the serious prohibition against smoking, which is harmful for the body. And it would never occur to him to say about this ‘Hashem protects the simple,’ because many, many people smoke. Rather, he ruled definitively that if smoking detracts from one’s capabilities, he will certainly be brought to judgment on this matter.”

Obviously, these words were said with respect to every substance that is harmful to the body, and “one who guards his body, should stay away from them.”