The Baal Shem Tov was passing through a town in which a man lay critically ill. Word of the Besht’s (an acronym for Baal Shem Tov) arrival spread quickly, and the man’s doctor asked the Baal Shem Tov to visit his patient.
The Baal Shem Tov came to see the man and looked at him for a brief moment. He then turned to the man’s wife and asked her to prepare some chicken broth for her husband. The man sipped some of the soup and immediately began to speak. The Baal Shem Tov stayed with him for a few hours, during which the man’s health returned.
As the Baal Shem Tov prepared to leave, the man’s doctor asked for a moment of his time. “I know this man was close to death,” the doctor said. “There was nothing I could do, and certainly chicken soup would not be enough to cure him. What did you do?”
The Baal Shen, Tov said: “Illness appears in the body but is caused by the spirit. You looked at the man as a body; I looked at him as a soul. When a man uses his body in ungodly ways — acting without thinking, speaking cruelly, violating the mitzvos (Divine commandments) and derekh eretz (literally, “the way of the world”) — then his spirit suffers and cannot keep the body well. This was the case with your patient. I spoke to his soul and urged it to turn from selfishness to selflessness. As soon as it agreed, the body responded by returning to health.”
“And the soup?” the doctor asked.
The Baal Shem Tov simply smiled, shrugged, and took his leave.
Derekh eretz (literally, “the way of the world”): Deeds that are intrinsically good, though not commanded by God (those being mitzvos). Among the deeds the Rabbis highlighted as derekh eretz are courtesy (Berachot 6b), personal hygiene (Avodah Zara 20b), respect for women (Shabbat 10b), honoring parents and teachers (Sanhedrin 100b), avoiding coarse speech (Pesach 3a), and good manners (Yoma 4b).
The Hasidim teach that the soul manifests in the world through Three Garments: thought, word, and deed. When the soul is healthy, your thoughts are positive, your words are compassionate, and your deeds are just. When the soul is weak, the Garments become soiled: thoughts become obsessive; words become hurtful; and deeds become arrogant, greedy, and mean. How is the soul weakened? When you willfully think, speak, and act contrary to the natural inclination of a healthy soul, you cause the soul to weaken. As the soul weakens, sinful thoughts, words, and deeds become more and more natural, more and more an expression of a diseased soul.
Healing comes when the soul is made right and returned to its pure state. How? The Baal Shem Tov had the ability to intervene and do this directly. But you cannot rely on finding someone of his caliber to heal you. You can heal yourself by cleansing the Garments of the Soul and rectifying the soul itself: think positively, speak kindly, and act graciously. In time, your soul will return to its pure state and empower you to turn from evil and do good (Psalm 34:14).