I remember hearing that if someone has a sickness, disease, or ailment in a specific part of the body, they should do specific cheshbon nefesh regarding that area of their body. For instance, if a person has an illness in his throat, he should look into sins regarding the throat (ie. non kosher foods, lashon hara, etc) and do teshuva for that - because Hashem sent this specific malady as a sign.What is the source for this?

  • ת"ר אל ישמיע אדם לאזניו דברים בטלים מפני שהן נכוות תחלה לאיברים
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


The original source seems to be Brachos 5a:

אמר רבא ואיתימא רב חסדא, "אם רואה אדם שיסורין באין עליו יפשפש במעשיו, שנא' ,(איכה ג, מ) 'נחפשה דרכינו ונחקורה ונשובה עד ה'.' פשפש ולא מצא יתלה בבטול תורה שנאמר (תהלים צד, יב) 'אשרי הגבר אשר תיסרנו יה ומתורתך תלמדנו.' ואם תלה ולא מצא בידוע שיסורין של אהבה הם, שנאמר (משלי ג, יב), 'כי את אשר יאהב ה׳ יוכיח.'"‏

Rava, and some say Rav Chisda, said, "If a person sees that suffering has befallen him, he should examine his actions, as it is stated (Eichah 3:40), 'We will search and examine our ways, and return to G-d.' If he examined his deeds and did not find anything, attribute it to Bitul Torah, as it is stated (Tehillim 94:12), 'Happy is the man whom You punish, Hashem, and teach out of Your Law.' And if he did attribute [it to Bitul Torah] but did not find [that to be so], it must be afflictions of love, as it is stated (Mishlei 3:12), 'For whom Hashem loves, He rebukes.'"

As Rashi explains:

פשפש ולא מצא - לא מצא עבירה בידו שבשבילה ראוין יסורין הללו לבא:

He examined and did not find - he did not find a sin that on its account it would be fitting for all this suffering to come.

In other words: since Hashem punishes measure-for-measure, any afflictions that come upon a person must correspond to that part of the body.

I have a separate question about the exception of Bitul Torah, and another one about afflictions that don’t seem to fit the definitions provided by the Gemara, for further reading (especially the first one).

  • 4
    AN interesting point, in the right direction. But who's linking between an organ and a Mitzvah?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 15:04

It’s unclear if your source was a primary one or not, but it may have been based off the following story.

Although the steps are reversed in the way you described them, the conclusion is that an ‘illness’ in a body part can affect atonement for a sin; thus resulting in Teshuva.

Varied in Shekalim 5:4 (15a) and Ta’anit 21a. (The Shekalim version is more correct according to Taklin Chaditin.)

Shekalim (Translation taken without permission from Rabbi Yaakov Shulman, 1991):

Nachum Ish Gamzu was bringing a gift to the house of his father-in-law. He was met by a man afflicted with boils, who said to him, 'Give me some of what you have.' He answered him, When I return.' He returned and found him dead. He declared, standing opposite him: 'The eyes that saw you did you let them become sightless. The hands that did not stretch forward to give you-let them be cut off. The legs that did not run to give you-let them be broken.' It happened to him exactly so. R' Akiva went up to visit him, and said to him, 'Woe unto me, that I see you thus!’ Nachum replied to him, 'Woe unto me that I don’t see you thus!’ He asked him, ‘Why are you cursing me?’ He answered him, ‘And why do you revel against suffering?’

נחום איש גם זו היה מוליך דורון לבית חמיו פגע בו מוכה שחין א' א"ל זכה עמי ממה דאית גבך אמר ליה מיחזור חזר ואשכחיה מית והוה אמר לקיבליה עינייא דחמינך ולא יסבון לך יסתמיין ידיה דלא פשטן מיתן לך יתקטעון רגלייא דלא רהטן למיתן לך יתברון ומטתיה כן סליק לגביה ר' עקיבא אמר ליה אי לי שאני רואה אותך בכך אמר ליה אי לי שאין אני רואה אותך בכך אמר ליה מה את מקללני אמר ליה ומה את מבעט ביסורין

Ta’anit 21a:

Naḥum of Gam Zu related to them the following: As once I was traveling along the road to my father-in-law’s house, and I had with me a load distributed among three donkeys, one of food, one of drink, and one of delicacies. A poor person came and stood before me in the road, saying: My rabbi, sustain me. I said to him: Wait until I unload the donkey, after which I will give you something to eat. However, I had not managed to unload the donkey before his soul left his body. I went and fell upon his face and said: May my eyes, which had no compassion on your eyes, be blinded; may my hands, which had no compassion on your hands, be amputated; may my legs, which had no compassion on your legs, be amputated. And my mind did not rest until I said: May my whole body be covered in boils. Naḥum of Gam Zu prayed that his suffering might atone for his failure. His students said to him: Even so, woe to us that we have seen you in this state. He said to them: Woe is me if you had not seen me in this state, as this suffering atones for me.

פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בדרך לבית חמי והיה עמי משוי ג' חמורים אחד של מאכל ואחד של משתה ואחד של מיני מגדים בא עני אחד ועמד לי בדרך ואמר לי רבי פרנסני אמרתי לו המתן עד שאפרוק מן החמור לא הספקתי לפרוק מן החמור עד שיצתה נשמתו הלכתי ונפלתי על פניו ואמרתי עיני שלא חסו על עיניך יסומו ידיי שלא חסו על ידיך יתגדמו רגליי שלא חסו על רגליך יתקטעו ולא נתקררה דעתי עד שאמרתי כל גופי יהא מלא שחין אמרו לו אוי לנו שראינוך בכך אמר להם אוי לי אם לא ראיתוני בכך


You may be thinking of Sha’arei Teshuvah 1:35:

Translation copied without permission from The Mermelstein Edition of Sha’arei Teshuvah by Rabbi Yosef Leibler from Feldheim Publishers:

The tenth principle is to improve one's deeds in the very area where he acted wickedly. If one gazed immodestly, he must accustom himself to turn his eyes downwards. If he has spoken badly about another person, he should engage himself in [speaking words of] Torah. He should try to perform mitzvos with each limb used for sinning. Similarly, our Sages, z"l, said (Shemos Rabbah 23:3), "The tzaddikim are reconciled [to Hashem] by means of the very thing with which they have sinned." They further said (Vaykira Rabah 21:4), "If you have committed bundles of sins, perform bundles of mitzvos in their place. Feet that swiftly run to evil, should run to perform a mitzvah. A deceitful tongue-his palate should say truths, his mouth should open with wisdom, and teachings of kindness should be on his tongue. Hands that shed blood -he should open his hands (generously] to his impoverished brethren. Haughty eyes he should be contrite, with his eyes turned downwards. A heart that contemplates sinful thoughts-he should accumulate sayings of Torah in his heart, and the musings of his heart should be [filled with] understanding. One who sows discord among brothers should seek peace and pursue it.

העיקר הי' להיטיב פעליו בדבר אשר זדה עליו. אם הסתכל בעריות. יתנהג בשחות העינים. אם חטא בלשון הרע יעסוק בתורה. ובכל האיברים אשר חטא ישתדל לקיים בהם המצות. וכן אמרו רבותינו ז"ל הצדיקים באותו דבר שחוטאים בו מתרצים. עוד אמרו אם עשית חבילות של עבירות. עשה כנגדן חבילות חבילות של מצות. רגלים ממהרות לרוץ לרעה. יהיו רצים לדבר מצוה. לשון שקר. אמת יהגה חכו ופיו יפתח בחכמה ותורת חסד על לשונו. ידים שופכות דם. פתוח יפתח את ידו לאחיו לענייו. עינים רמות. יהי דכא ושח עינים. לב חורש מחשבות און. בלבו יצפון אמרי התורה ויהי הגות לבו תבונות. משלח מדנים בין אחים. יבקש שלום וירדפהו.

Similarly quoted in Shmiras Halashon Part I, Sha’ar Hatorah 1:2:

  • 1
    Doesn’t mention sickness per se
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 14:22
  • Really looking for the idea when there is sickness to do teshuva in that area
    – adtz
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 19:33

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