The Rebbe on Staying Up Late, Overweightness, and Smoking




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    The Rebbe on Staying Up Late, Overweightness, and Smoking

    Does Chabad tolerate Staying Up Late, Overweightness, and Smoking, among other unhealthy behaviors done by Yeshivah bochurim? What is the Rebbes aproach to this? In Part 3 of the ‘Health and Chinuch’ mini-series, Rabbi Gerhon Avtzon Answers • Full Article

    Question: There is one thing that really bothers me about our educational system and frum-lifestyle: There seems to be a total disregard to health concerns. There are lots of staying up late, drinking, smoking, and overweight issues. Why is there such a lack of focus on concern?

    Answer: In our previous articles, we discussed the Rebbe’s general approach to health — that it is part of serving Hashem to have a healthy body and lifestyle — and the Rebbe’s clear directives about drinking alcohol. In this article, we will address some of the other issues that you mention:

    Staying Up Late

    (1) “It is obvious that one is to sleep at night (in accordance with both the revealed and esoteric portions of Torah, and as is to be observed as well in the nature of human conduct). Only in unusual circumstances should one nap during the day.” (Igros, Vol. 12 p. 448; #4265)

    (2) “In response to your letter of the 8th of Kislev in which you describe the times that you go to sleep and arise, and you ask my opinion if this conduct is correct or whether it should be changed:”

    “The ultimate criteria for the above should be in keeping with the exposition offered by the Alter Rebbe in Hilchos Talmud Torah, regarding a teacher of children. [There the Alter Rebbe states that a teacher] should not stay up so late in the night so that [his lack of sleep] will affect the efficacy of his teaching the next day. (See Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:12.) Understandably, the same applies to one’s own study of the Torah [— one should not stay up too late if it will keep him from being alert when he awakens the next day].

    “Since the amount of sleep a person needs is different from one individual to the other, depending on the nature of his body and the amount of sleep he is used to getting, etc., [it is therefore impossible for me to advise you as to the exact amount of sleep you need].The statements in the various codes of law regarding the amount [of time] a person should sleep is but a median amount and applies to the majority, for Torah speaks to the needs of the majority, [however, individuals may well vary as to the exact number of hours of sleep they require].

    “You should test yourself [to see] how many hours of sleep you require, so that when you awaken you will be able to study with the necessary amount of [alertness and] comprehension. Based on this test, you should establish the hours of going to sleep and waking.It is self-understood that in any case you are to carefully observe the time of the morning Shema, [i.e., that you arise in time to recite the morning Shema ], a matter that is of particular import during the summer [when there is a greater possibility of missing the proper time for the recitation of the morning Shema].” (Igros, Vol. 19 p. 89; #7115).

    Overeating and Overweight:

    (1) “I am sure that you are ensuring that your body remains healthy. Thus, for an hour-and-a-half to two hours before you go to sleep you should refrain from eating or drinking (bli neder). It is understood that I am referring to a big meal and not to a light snack or drink.” (Igros, Vol. 4 p. 364; #1083)

    (2) “You write to me that you are overweight and that worries you. In addition, you have a hard time cutting down on your eating and drinking: It is my opinion: (a) The doctors exaggerate the dangers of being overweight. (b) Not constantly thinking about your eating issue will make it easier to not overeat. 

    You should strengthen your Menuchas Hanefesh (peace of mind), thus the human metabolism will work better to remove the extra fat of the person. The main thing is to serve Hashem with joy.” (Igros, Vol. 31 p. 106;  #11,030). 


    The Rebbe generally discouraged smoking, but didn’t want to issue a blanket prohibition of the matter, as some of the Rebbeim smoked (as well as the Rebbe’s own father, not unbeknownst to the Rebbe Rashab) and many elder Chassidim did who were not instructed by the Rebbeim to stop. (From an answer to R’ Tzvi Yair Steinmanetz) 

    The Rebbe did, however, refer to a letter the Frierdiker Rebbe wrote to the hanallah of the central Yeshiva Tomchei T’mimim in which he wrote that:

    “To ban smoking completely and decisively for students under the age of twenty … and this ban applies to all students wherever they are for all 24 hours of the day. As to the students above that age, please convey to them my request — in my name — that for their spiritual and physical benefit that they should try to quit smoking by reducing it from day to day, until they leave it completely … ” (Igros of the Frierdiker Rebbe Vol. 7 p. 66)

    In a letter to an individual, the Rebbe wrote: “You write to me about the health-issues of smoking: It is self-understood that this falls under the jurisdiction of the professionals i.e. medical professionals. This is also the answer to the question as to why the Rabbanim did not take a stance about this issue (as it is under the jurisdiction of the medical professionals).

    To add: even the professionals that explain how smoking is a danger to the health of the person, base their conclusions on the type of cigarettes that are being manufactured which contain dangerous ingredients. There is much research being done to create healthy cigarettes, in which case there would be no reason to declare that smoking is forbidden. Being that Torah is eternal, the Halachik rulings should be ones that are eternal.” (Igros, Vol. 31 p. 81; #11,008)

    [Ed. — The above is a short sampling of much more on this topic. With Hashem’s help we will publish a more comprehensive anthology on this matter.]

    The Moshiach Connection

    There is an argument amongst the Rishonim if the ultimate reward of Olam Haba will be given to souls in a physical body or not. Chassidus follows the opinion of the Ramban that there will be physical bodies in that era. This is all part of the “Dirah B’tachtonim — a dwelling in this physical world.” Thus, care must be given to maintain the health and holiness of the physical body.

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    The Rebbe on Staying Up Late, Overweightness, and Smoking