Once there were two farmers living in Israel. Reuven owned a vineyard in the north and lived in the south, while Shimon owned a vineyard in the south and lived in the north. Each one traveled a great distance to get to work.
One day, Reuven and Shimon met up and realized that there was no reason to travel so far to take care of their respective vineyards. Reuven could tend Shimon’s vineyard in the south, and Shimon could tend Reuven’s vineyard in the north. This way all of the grapes would be taken care of without the tremendous effort of cross-country commutes (Midrash Tanchuma, Kedoshim 6, as cited by Mishna Berura 61,6).
Our Sages use this story as a parable to explain the health benefits of reciting Krias Shema twice a day. Hashem tells us, “If you accept My mitzvos by saying Shema and accepting the yoke of mitzvos anew twice a day, I will protect your health.” Though the connection between this promise and the above parable is not immediately clear, by delving a little deeper we will come to a profound understanding.
The average person takes some steps to safeguard his health by visiting the local doctor, watching his diet, or exercising regularly. While this is obviously an acceptable, and sometimes essential, way to make sure one will live a long and healthy life, there is a “wonder drug” that obviates the need for putting a great deal of time into the pursuit of health. Even the greatest doctors have only a partial understanding of how the human body works; none can guarantee complete cure from an illness. Hashem, on the other hand, has total control of all our bodily processes, and He can certainly ensure good health. For Hashem, healing our bodies is as easy as caring for a nearby vineyard.
Mitzvos, on the other hand, are done in this physical world, and only a Jew, who is a synthesis of the physical and spiritual, can perform them. They are our most valuable spiritual assets, and thus are represented by the second vineyard in our parable. If we undertake to tend the nearby vineyard of mitzvos in this world, Hashem promises us that he will take care of our health, which is difficult for us but easy for Him.
This agreement to tend to our local vineyard, our Sages reveal, is affirmed when we say Shema twice a day and accept upon ourselves the observance of the mitzvos. If we do this properly, we can rest assured that Hashem will keep His part of the deal and watch over our health. Let us try and understand the guidelines of how to say Shema in a way that will provide us with the maximum health benefits.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org