May 30, 2024
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In this week’s parsha of Pinchas, we learn that Hashem rewarded Pinchas with a “covenant of peace — a brit shalom,” in return for his loyalty and actions. The Sforno offers a novel interpretation of what this meant. Apparently, as a result of this covenant of peace, Pinchas lived an extraordinarily long life. The Sforno posits that there was nothing supernatural about Pinchas living a long life. Rather, it was directly due to him living at peace with himself. In effect, he had “nachat ruach —, peace of mind.”

The Sforno believed that our deteriorating health and aging only occurs because we have conflict within. The stresses of living and dealing with our internal problems cause us to weaken and be susceptible to disease. Since Pinchas was granted peace of mind, he had no stress or internal conflict. As a result, he might have lived for hundreds of years.

There is actually a Gemara (Bava Metzia 114b) that posits that the prophet Elijah — who lived hundreds of years later — was actually Pinchas. If he was not the actual person, then certainly his spirit was embodied by the zealotry of Elijah. That is why the haftorah of Elijah is paired with this week’s Torah parsha of Pinchas.

We have to question the Sforno’s explanation, though. We all know that, as mere mortals, our bodies deteriorate just by the passage of time alone. Our organs break down, our arteries harden, driving up our blood pressure and our muscles begin to atrophy as we get older. Why, then, does the Sforno believe that, “All deterioration happens to the body because of conflicts of the opposites?”

While the Sforno actually lived in the early 1500s, his explanation might actually resonate with modern medical thinking. Study after study has discovered that stress accelerates disease and the deterioration of the body. Stress can lower our immune system and make us more susceptible to illness. We all know of individuals who have experienced ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease or other disorders, because they found themselves reacting to high levels of stress and internal pressure. We now know that psychological factors have a direct bearing on our physical health. The American Psychological Association described that stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and reproductive systems. We cannot ignore our emotional health without it possibly affecting our physical health.

This is what the Sforno taught us over 500 years ago. Pinchas naturally lived a very long life, because he had the blessing of peace. His health did not deteriorate, as it might otherwise have done, and his peace of mind allowed him to avoid the typical afflictions of aging and disease.

When a Jew follows the mitzvot of the Torah, when he has “emunah sheleima —complete faith, he too, can experience peace of mind. Our health may be improved, as we lead a less stressful life, knowing that our needs and desires are being addressed by a loving, caring God, who is involved in our lives. Within the Jewish population studies have reported less depression and better mental health amongst religious Jews. This can be attributed to religious coping. Religious Jews will often pray and rely on God to help them cope with the challenges of life. This helps alleviate their stress, anxiety and depression.

May we learn the lessons of Pinchas and may Hashem grant each and every one of us the blessings of peace of mind and good health.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is acting president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

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