Happiness through Jewish Values

    Issue Number 21, May 1999          
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Opinion & Society

Jewish Values Reduce Stress

By David Greenfield

There are those people that are convinced that "healthy living," meaning a diet of "healthful" and "organic" foods, coupled with regular exercise will promote a healthy life. The premise here is simple "healthy" foods and exercise will give a person a full and rich life. Sounds good, but is it?

One of the interesting side points we find when studying Jewish history is that the great Rabbis through out the generations lived long lives. Whether we look into the middle ages, when the life span of the general population was very low, or in our own times, we find many examples of rabbis living in good health and with sharp mental facilities well into the late eighties and even nineties, which is far beyond the average life span of the man in the street. What is the secret?

It goes with out saying that many of these men did not eat from the finest "healthy" diets or participate in regular exercise. But these men, through their learning, had acquired one concept that we are almost totally lacking in our lives. This one concept that we have not assimilated, is simply learning to live with stress, strain and personal setbacks. Most of the early rabbis, as well as contemporary rabbinical leaders, have led less than ample financial lives. A common thread we can find between them is that they lived with poverty at one stage of their lives. Many problems faced them in their lives, yet they managed to live long lives, unhampered by the ills and woes that the common person succumbed to.

The reason is that they, through their learning, developed the ability to not let stressful situations rule their lives. We, though we may eat the best foods and take the best exercises, we succumb to the daily stresses and strains. The great rabbis, on the other hand, did not. Not only did they not succumb to the stress and strain of life, but also their diets were less than ample, and they did no exercises other than the regular chores of living. How then, did they manage to outlive their more "healthy" counterparts from the surrounding civilizations in which they lived?

The secret is not really such a big secret. It is something that we all know. Perhaps because it is so well known, that we do not pay attention to it. This is the secret: they knew that God is running the world!

But, you may ask, we also know that God is running the world. Why do we succumb to the bodily degeneration caused by stress and strain? Why does it not help us?

The answer is also simple. We know in the back of our minds that G-d exists. They looked into each day, and into each occurrence in the day, as a manifestation of G-d in the world. They used any negative experience as a microscope to seek out G-d. Why is this happening? Why does G-d desire that this be so?

Not every thing brings an instant answer. Some times we can understand that some thing does not work for us, perhaps it is not G-d's desire that it be. We can accept that. Sometimes we can not make any sense of the occurrences around us. We have to have patience and wait. Perhaps in a month, maybe in several months, perhaps in a year we will see the reason. However, sometimes we can not understand any purpose in what happens. But we know that in spite of this, we accept the situation as G-d's desire.

That is the secret. If we were able to accept the set backs equally as we accept the victories and gains with the same acknowledgement that it all came from G-d, then we would all be much happier and healthier. That is the message. That is the secret.


from theIssue Number 21, May 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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