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A Key to Longevity

This past Hoshannah Rabbah, I had the somber privilege of officiating and saying a hesped, eulogy (of course, of the kind that is permitted on a quasi-yomtov day) at the funeral of a wonderful one hundred and four year old man, Mr. Avraham Liefer, a”h, zy”a. Since the average lifespan of an American male is 78 years, it is a special event when someone surpasses that milestone by over a quarter of a century. The Gemora in Mesechtas Megilla [28b] teaches us that when we observe that someone lives an unusually long life, we should try to discover “Bameh harachta yomim,” in what merit the person lived such a long life. Then, we can try to emulate him and also achieve longevity. (Although in today’s day and age, when we are not invested with ruach haKodesh, Divine inspiration, our findings are mere speculation. However, for such rewards it’s even worthwhile to speculate.) In Mr. Liefer’s case, I’d like to speculate one reason why he merited to belong to the exclusive centurion club.

Years ago, I was on my way to give a lecture to a large audience on the subject of marital harmony. Before leaving to the shiur, I chanced to bump into Mr. Liefer. At the time, he was already happily married for over sixty years. So, I said to him, “Reb Liefer, I’m going to give a lecture on shalom bais. Compared to you, I’m a mere whippersnapper. You have twice the experience as do I. What would you say is the secret of a happy marriage?” I’ll never forget how he answered me in his pleasant, quiet way. “Rabbi Weiss, it all comes down to one word.” I waited with baited breath and he said simply, “Flexibility – it’s all about how flexible one is with their mate.”

In my eulogy, I related this story and connected it to a Gemora in Sanhedrin which states categorically “Lolam yehei adam rach k’kana v’al yehei kasha k’erez – A person should always be soft and pliable like a reed and never tough and rigid like a cedar.” The Gemora then continues that one who embraces such a correct posture, “Chalfa bishta meiah – A hundred bad happenings pass him by.” To me it is no wonder that a man whose mantra was to be flexible, lived to a ripe old age. Anger, stewing over grudges, nursing animosities, are all the stuff that shortens one’s stay on this world. The flexible, gentle person has a better chance of a healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, and a reliable and well functioning heart.

The Keren Orah adds a more profound explanation. He says that there is an internal struggle between the soul and the body. The soul, which is spiritual, is homesick and yearns to return to heaven. The body doesn’t want this to happen in the worst way for if, G-d forbid, the soul leaves us, we die. How does one keep the soul in the body for a 120 years? The Keren Orah suggests that the key is to make the soul less homesick. The way to do this is to make the body as heavenly as possible and then the soul is aggregable to stay in the body for 120 years.

How do we make the body heavenly? The answer is our tefila when we say at the end of Shemone Esrei, Kaddish and Bentching. “Oseh shalom bimromav,” Hashem makes peace in his Heaven. The heavens are made up of fire and water and Hashem synthesized them peacefully. Thus, if we make our body a peaceful place and don’t boil over in anger, scream in frustration, gnash our teeth in impatience, stomp our feet with rigidity, then the neshama is happy to stick around for over a hundred years. But if steam comes out of our nose in anger and we’re yelling out at the top of our lungs and act defiantly with our colleagues, then many times the neshama says “Get me out of here. I simply can’t take it.” Mr. Liefer, with his gentle demeanor, his soft spoken manner and his flexible ways was the perfect example of a body that the neshama was completely comfortable to remain in for 104 years.

We are taught in Pirkei Avos that the barometer of whether Hashem is pleased with us is, “Kol sh’ruach habrious nochah heimenu, ruach haMakom nochah heimenu – Whoever people are at ease with, that’s the person that Hashem is at ease with.” May we merit to make our bodies a peaceful receptacle and in that zechus be blessed by Hashem with long life, good health and everything wonderful.