The concept of V'Chai Bahem - "do the mitzvos to live by them" (Vayikra 18:5) - is usually understood to refer to one's physical existence (i.e. the mitzvos should not be performed if they present a clear danger to your life.)

I remember hearing a somewhat non-literal explanation of V'Chai Bahem as referring to Derech Eretz, i.e. wholesome living. According to this explanation, a person should not perform mitzvos in an unhealthy OCD-like manner, rather the mitzvos should be done in a wholesome Derech Eretz manner. Does this interpretation of V'Chai Bahem have an authoritative source ?

  • As a side note, Unkulus understands this pasuk to refer to one's eternal, and not physical, life.
    – user17319
    Jul 13, 2020 at 14:56
  • Rashi too: וחי בהם – לעולם הבא. אם תאמר בעולם הזה, והלא סופו הוא מת.
    – wfb
    Jul 13, 2020 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


To start with, both the first and second interpretations of vechai bahem are non-literal explanations. Literal is that you should live your lives by the rules laid out by the mitzvot, or that by following these rules, you will have the reward of life as opposed to the penalty of the opposite. So you are actually asking about a logical extension of the first non-literal explanation.

In terms of using "veChai bahem" as an answer to an OCD like approach, you might search for the term "scrupulosity" (which is how OCD is channeled improperly into religious acts, such as making sure you have a guf naki, or repeating prayer until you have proper intent), along with וחי בהם, and you will find e.g. Chana David's article which try to make such a claim.

For an authoritative source, you might consider Rav Nachman of Breslov, "who declared that he himself suffered from excessive religious practices typical of religious OCD until he overcame them".

Rav Nachman makes of the pasuk of "vechai bahem" regarding being improperly, and overly scrupulous, in Likutei Moharan, part ii, 44:1:

וְעַל אֵלּוּ הַמְדַקְדְּקִים וּמַחְמִירִים בְּחֻמְרוֹת יְתֵרוֹת, עֲלֵיהֶם נֶאֱמַר (ויקרא י״ח:ה׳): וְחַי בָּהֶם, וְלֹא שֶׁיָּמוּת בָּהֶם, (יומא פה:) כִּי אֵין לָהֶם שׁוּם חִיּוּת כְּלָל, וְתָמִיד הֵם בְּמָרָה שְׁחֹרָה, מֵחֲמַת שֶׁנִּדְמֶה לָהֶם שֶׁאֵינָם יוֹצְאִים יְדֵי חוֹבָתָם בְּהַמִּצְווֹת שֶׁעוֹשִׂין, וְאֵין לָהֶם שׁוּם חִיּוּת מִשּׁוּם מִצְוָה מֵחֲמַת הַדִּקְדּוּקִים וְהַמָּרָה שְׁחֹרוֹת שֶׁלָּהֶם (וְהוּא בְּעַצְמוֹ אֵינוֹ מַחְמִיר שׁוּם חֻמְרָא כְּלָל):

Moreover, concerning those who are exacting and unnecessarily strict it is said: “and live through them” (Leviticus 18:5), and not to die by them (Yoma 85b). For they have no vitality whatsoever and are always depressed, because it seems to them that they fail to meet their religious duties with the mitzvot they perform. And on account of their exactitude and depression they have no vitality from any mitzvah {whereas [the Rebbe] himself did not practice any stringency}.

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