While the Jewish tradition has high expectations of self-refinement and taking actions that benefit society and the world, it also gives guidance on how we must care for ourselves.
Of course, taking care of ourselves (often called “self-care) is not to be confused with the modern “wellness” industry that proposes that we make our own wellness the ultimate goal of our life.
We can define self-care as any regular and repeated action that a person takes to preserve or improve the health of their body, mind, and spirit. Here is my favorite working definition of self-care.
Self-care actions are available to everyone for free. Self-care actions can be:
- Making sure you go to sleep at a certain hour to ensure you get a specific number of hours of sleep
- Saying no to things and people that bring out the worst in your and/or drain, sap or derail your strength or positive energy;
- Saying yes to things and people that bring out the best in you/enliven, soothe, refresh or invigorate your strength energy;
- Daily meditation and/or prayer
- Daily/weekly movement and exercise for your body
- Creativity and crafting
- Eating foods that make you feel well
Here are 33 Jewish quotes to inspire us to take care of ourselves.
Guarding Your Health
Guard yourself and guard your soul very carefully. – Deuteronomy 4:19
Jewish commentators understand this verse as an instruction to not only care for our emotional and mental well-being, but also our physical bodies. Maimonides gave a similar instruction, reminding us that staying healthy enables us to serve God.
A man should aim to maintain physical health and vigor, in order that his soul may be upright, in a condition to know God. For it is impossible for one to understand sciences and meditate upon them when one is hungry or sick, or when any of his limbs is aching…because his purpose in all that he does will be to satisfy his needs so as to have a sound body with which to serve God. -Maimonides
Committing to Self-Care Actions
The Jewish tradition recognizes that a person cannot wholly do their work in the world unless they take care of themselves.
One of the simple healing meditations I teach people is to see themselves through God’s eyes. –Estelle Frankel
To love yourself, is to identify yourself as part of the Shekhinah. -Baal Shem Tov
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? -Hillel
Love your fellow as yourself -Leviticus 19:18
If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it must be a virtue—and not a vice—to love myself, since I am a human being too. There is no concept of man in which I myself am not included. – Erich Fromm
A person’s own parnassah [living] takes precedence over that of anyone else, and one is not required to give tzedakah until he or she has acquired a parnassah, as it says (in Leviticus 25:36), “And your fellow will live with you,” meaning that your life takes priority over that of your fellow. -Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Tur, Yoreh Deah 251:1
When we are depleted of our own resources, we are incapable of providing for those around us. -Rabbi Lauren Eichler Berkun
The King of all Kings mints every human being with the stamp of the first, and yet not one looks like another. Hence, every single person must proclaim, “The world was created for me.” -Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
On Finding Relief From Mental Distress
Every man, woman and child experiences a wide range of emotions from sadness, happiness, fear and loneliness. Jewish texts speak to this emotional suffering. The texts remind us that we have an obligation to care for our mental health. In addition, in times of mental and emotional distress, we are advised to speak to a trusted friend or a mental health professional to find relief and solace.
One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often. -Erich Fromm
The Gemara explains another verse in Proverbs: “If there is anxiety in a man’s heart, let him quash it” (Proverbs 12:25)… It means he should tell [yesiḥena] others his concerns, which will lower his anxiety. -Yoma 75a:2
Three things bring anxiety: great pain, long fingernails, and ripped clothing. -Kol Bo 118:11
“I will speak that I may find relief”; for there is a redemptive quality for an agitated mind in the spoken word, and a tormented soul finds peace in confessing.” -Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Do not give yourself over to sorrow or distress yourself deliberately. A merry heart keeps a person alive, and joy lengthens one’s days. -Yeshua Ben Sira
It is a great mitzvah to be happy. -Rebbe Nachman
Anxiety in the heart of a person causes dejection, but a good word will turn it into joy. -Proverbs 12:25
Taking Time to Rest
Rest is an especially important aspect of self-care as it impacts our body, emotional stability and mental functioning. Every person needs adequate rest in order to function well in their life.
Resting isn’t just sleeping; it also includes withdrawing into a more reflective/thinking state during our waking hours.
The night was created for no other purpose than sleep. -Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 65a)
Be at rest, once again, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. -Psalm 116:7
Resting is not sleeping, but letting the mind and heart be clear. –Cantor Susan Caro
Even when [a person] sleeps and seeks repose, to calm his mind and rest his body, so as not to fall sick and be incapacitated from serving God, his sleep is service of God. -Maimonides
True rest gives us a completely different perspective on all of life’s difficulties. It allows us to heal, to reflect, to give thanks, and to face whatever lies ahead with a renewed sense of calm. -Rabbi Naomi Levy
If you take on too much, you have taken on nothing. -Talmud Bavli, Yoma 80a
Take time for thinking; it is good even when it may not be productive. Take time for being; it is always productive, even when I cannot immediately see the results. –Cantor Susan Caro
It is as necessary for man to live in beauty rather than ugliness as it is necessary for him to have food for an aching belly or rest for a weary body. -Abraham Maslow
Sleep is one of the necessary blessings of life, allowing a person to refresh one’s body and spirit. -Rabbi Berel Wein
Commune with your own heart on your bed and be still. -Maimonides
Connecting With Spirituality
Self-care can include actions taken to improve or maintain our spiritual life. Investing in spiritual activities like prayer, studying Torah, spending time in nature can help us return to and refresh our connection with spirituality.
But spiritual growth, the spirituality we are concerned with, is not and cannot be reduced to a growth in knowledge. It has to do with a growth in being, a transformation of self. — -Rabbi Jack Bemporad
Our sages call true devotion avodat ha-lev–the service of the heart; that is, the fulfillment of God’s will toward our own inner person by purifying and ennobling our character. -Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
The student of Torah is like the amnesia victim who tries to reconstruct from fragments the beautiful world he once experienced. By learning Torah, man returns to his own self. -Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement. -Golda Meir
Master of the universe, let me seclude myself in meditation and prayer every day, going out to the fields to meditate, among the trees and grass, pouring out my heart in prayer. -Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
A mother is nurtured through cultivating a spiritual practice. -Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
Other Inspiring Jewish Quote Collections:
19 Jewish Quotes that Call for Racial Justice and Protest
Jewish quotes that support and call for justice for the poor and oppressed.
25 Contemplative Jewish Quotes on Prayer
Jewish quotes on prayer to nourish our body, mind and spirit during these times.