“A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; but envy is the rottenness of the bones” (חַיֵּי בְשָׂרִים לֵב מַרְפֵּא וּרְקַב עֲצָמוֹת קִנְאָה). The Ibn Ezra explains this verse with the following:
“The heart that will not be angry or jealous of another person, is like a healer for the body…. In other words, the lifeforce of the body heals it when they have a ‘healing heart,’ referring to the good and happy heart that will heal the body with its joy.”
Let’s start with a simple observation. The central words that the Ibn Ezra is focusing on are “healing heart,” which he explains is happiness. Indeed, the value of “healing heart”’ (לֵב מַרְפֵּא) is 353, the same as “joy” (שִׂמְחָה)—with which the healing heart is filled!
A good and joyful heart is a relaxed and patient heart. It has the power to heal all the organs of the body (as opposed to drugs, which are beneficial to some organs but damaging to others). The good heart also seeks to affect others with its goodness, thereby drawing down healing for others as well. In the merit of possessing “a tranquil heart [that] is the life of the flesh,” one merits living a long and pleasant life filled with purpose, as the verse says, “the number of your days I will fill.”
How do we merit a healing heart?
To answer this question, we have to begin with one of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s epistles known as Le’haskilcha Binah. In it, he explains that a person should not desire what we perceive as the worldly needs of our material existence: children, life (health), and sustenance. This does not mean that these things are negative. Quite the contrary! Every person should have many good children, vibrant health, and plentiful sustenance. All of these are needed in order to properly serve God, particularly in our generation. So what did the Alter Rebbe mean and how does it help us attain a healing heart?
In his book, the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe discusses our emotional connection to our worldly needs: First, we must nullify our inner desire for them and see them instead as a means to serve God, which is the true desire of every Jew. Furthermore, we should also nullify the relatively external, innate desire for these things and live with a feeling that “It is not out of choice that you are alive.” We did not choose to live in this world, nor did we choose to desire children, health, and sustenance.
This realization has the power to nullify our desire and will, which in turn immediately triggers relaxation and a release from imaginary feelings of lack, difficulty, and pain that we instinctively feel when contemplating our worldly needs. If these desires are not mine by choice but are an outcome of having been born, then I have nothing to regret when it seems to me that I have not merited to satisfy them perfectly. If I merit to obtain these objects of my desire—I am certainly glad. But, if I do not, then I have been given a vacation, so to speak, from the need to pursue these mundane matters. Until it is time for this vacation to end, my duty is to strengthen the connection between my soul and the source from which it was carved out in Divinity, its true destination.
Never fear. By thinking this way, we will not be forsaking the opportunity to attain these mundane objects of desire: children, life, and sustenance. On the contrary, children, health, and sustenance all emanate from a lofty source. God recreates this world from nothing to something every moment. That Divine nothingness is the higher mazal upon which children, health, and sustenance are contingent. A rigid grasp of the solidity and being of our worldly needs creates a heart of stone—one that is angry and jealous—convinced that the world’s resources are limited and that if someone else “has,” then I necessarily “have less.” The heart of stone necessarily feels that reality is full of evil and hardship.
Nullifying our rigid desires allows us to release our hold on the “being” of this world and to instead connect more with its inner state of nothingness. By doing so, we turn our heart into a ‘heart of flesh,’ which can accept everything with tranquility, and which has desires that benefit everyone. The joyful and relaxed heart is connected to the Divine nothingness that is all good, life, and pleasure. It is the heart that heals the entire body and draws down rectified and healthy physical life from God.
. Proverbs 14:30.
. Rabbeinu Yonah to Ibid.
. Exodus 23:36.
. Tanya Igeret hakodesh 11.
. Avot 4:22.