“A joyful heart makes for good health; despondency dries up the bones”By Rabbi Richard F. Address
One of the least examined books of the Bible is the Book of Proverbs. I decided to look at this book for a mini class I am teaching this month in suburban Philadelphia.
Proverbs is part of a small collection of books referred to as “Wisdom literature.” The book offers observations on life, not from a lofty stance, but rather from the point of view of most of us who have to get through the day making a series of choices for our families and ourselves. Often, wisdom (chochmah in Hebrew) is personified and speaks as a wise sage. There are collections of maxims on a variety of topics. Some deal with issues related to health and healing and provide us with some very sound and common sense advice. In fact, the book really contains a lot of just plain old common sense advice.
For example: A joyful heart makes for good health; despondency dries up the bones (17:22). We all have heard the adage that attitude is everything. Well, here it is from a text about 3,000 years old! Indeed, study after study in our times has concluded that how you choose to respond to the challenges of life really does impact how you live your life and how your health reacts. In other words, Proverbs suggests that seeing that glass as half full actually has health benefits and makes life better. This is echoed a chapter later, where the book says: A man’s spirit can sustain him through illness; but low spirits—who can bear them? (18:14).
Here is another example of the common sense contained in the book. Many of us, as we grew up, heard from our elders advice on when it is appropriate to speak and how to speak. Likewise, we echoed these sentiments as we ourselves parented our children. The reality that words have power and sometimes it is better to stay silent is a reality that we all can identify with. So, it is no wonder that Proverbs says: Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the palate and a cure for the body (16:24).
Jewish tradition teaches that words, when wrongly used, can have the power to kill. The concept of lashon ha’ rah (evil speech or gossip) is a very strong part of our teachings. Indeed, it is included in the interpretation of the commandment against murder, as commentators knew that words, spoken in anger or with malice, can have the impact of “killing” another person. What we say can and does make a difference, so Proverbs reminds us that A healing tongue is a tree of life, but a devious one makes for a broken spirit (15:4).
Much of the text contains advice in the form of a parent talking to a child. It is often cast in the language of Wisdom speaking to the author and symbolizes a host of things (e.g., parent to child, God to humanity). However, if you examine many of the proverbs, you will probably smile and think and remember when you may have said something quite similar to your own children as they grew up, or to grandchildren now.
In the beginning of the book are several texts that remind the reader to listen to the instructions of parents, simply because they are your parents! In other words, life experience, honor, and respect count for a lot. In the end, that honor and respect is linked to long life and a peaceful soul. As the text says in one cogent verse from chapter three: My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your mind retain my commandments; for they will bestow upon you length of days, years of life and well being (3:1-3).
Take a look at this most interesting book. I think you will find some very meaningful insights.