One of the great biblical acts of valor was the zealous execution of the Nasi Zimri and the Midianite Princess Kozbi by the courageous tzaddik, Pinchas. Although the Torah rarely discusses rewards, Hashem informs us that Pinchas was granted a great gift for his courage and defense of the Jewish people. As the posuk testifies, “Therefore, I (Hashem) have gifted him with my covenant of peace.”
Over 500 years ago, the Sforno gave a very contemporary and fundamental explanation of the nature of this covenant. He defines peace as protection from the Malach HaMaves, the Angel of Death. He then proceeds to prove historically that Pinchas enjoyed unusual longevity. He places Pinchas as a Kohen ministering in the Mishkon Shiloh, proving that he outlived Yehoshua and all of the elders of his time. He then goes further to explain that Pinchas was still alive at the time of Yiftach, for as Chazal teach us, Pinchas did not go to annul the foolish vow that Yiftach made concerning his daughter. Thus, we see that Pinchas merited living for hundreds of years. The Sforno concludes that this was a natural outcome of the Divine blessing of peace, for it is the lack of internal peace that causes much of the deterioration and breakdown of the human body. Thus, we see clearly spelled out more than half a millennium ago, the correlation between stress levels and the health and wellbeing of an individual.
Rav Avidgor Miller, zt”l, zy”a, always said that one of the primary petitions to have in mind during Sim Shalom and Shalom Rav in our Shemone Esrei is to ask Hashem for the blessing of peace of mind, for serenity leads not just to quality of life but also to good health and longevity. We find this equation also in the daily Kaddish. There we say, “Yehei shlama raba min Shmaya, v’chayim alienu – May we be granted great peace from Heaven and life upon us.” for when a person is tranquil, there is the gift of life.
With this is mind, we must look at certain life issues from a different perspective. For example, most Americans are euphoric when gaining more assets like money. But the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos teaches us, “The more acquisition, the more worry.” I know wealthy people who use their extra cash to invest in properties. Those assets give them headaches and anxiety daily, nights, and even on weekends, so that their great wealth in reality might lead to their physical deterioration or even to an earlier demise. Jealousy is another source of great stress. When a person is always looking around at what others have and is thus unable to enjoy his own gifts, the inner turmoil that this creates is a grave danger to one’s health and wellbeing. Other maladies of our modern society are loneliness (which can plague even married people who are in loveless unions), and boredom, both of which can be mistaken as a lack of luxury. They are in reality a grave ill and the source of much melancholy and unhappiness today.
The pursuit of serenity is worth all of our attention. Relationships with acquaintances that cause us stress should be, if at all possible, discarded – at the very least, minimized. One should seek out pastimes that relieve the inner stress, such as exercise, reading and the advice of Chazal: “Worry in a person’s heart – share it with another.” And, of course, the greatest remedy known to mankind to relieve stress is the study of Torah. As it says, “The Torah of Hashem is perfect, it rejuvenates the soul,” and, “The statutes of Hashem are upright, causing the heart to rejoice.”
It goes without saying that those who are dating for a prospective mate should bear in mind that life’s greatest stress comes from a combative or unhappy spouse and this should be one of the most important areas they investigate before making this lifetime decision. Another source of great stress is when a person is unhappy in his or her job. It is for this reason that the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos advises us, “Ehov es hamelacha – Love your work,” for, if not, the majority of one’s hours will be spent in unhappiness and anxiety.
In the merit of our Torah study, may Hashem grant us the coveted acquisition of peace of mind and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.