By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
A British medical study published in 2011 (entitled, “Are relationships good for your health?”) concluded that stable, long term marriages lead to “more healthy lifestyles and better emotional and physical health,” and have a marked effect on a person’s longevity. The authors cite a Cambridge study that found that married persons had age adjusted mortality rates that were 10-15% lower than the population as a whole,” and that this statistic alone makes stable marriage “probably worth the effort.”
They also found that “physical and mental health benefits seem to accrue over time,” citing a 30-year longitudinal study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry which found that “the duration of a relationship was associated with better mental health scores, while the difference in mortality rates in favor of marriage, increases with age.”
Other researchers have sought to identify the core ingredients which collectively comprise a modern day Utopia. Not surprisingly (at least from a Torah perspective), affluence is not seen as a primary component of this perfect reality. Rather, studies have found educational and health services as leading indicators of societal bliss, coupled with idyllic landscapes, ample employment opportunities and sociable neighbors.
If you could distill all the wisdom from the 4000 or so academic papers that have been written about happiness over the past decade and use it to design a place that would make the most people happy, it wouldn’t be one where the streets are paved with gold or one that has a magnificent view of the mountains or the sea.
Little space would be used for luxury shops, country clubs, oversized houses or other places that distinguish the wealthy from other classes. Instead, it would be a place with good schools, free health clinics, day care centers and diverse places of worship dotting leafy urban neighborhoods… Nature, not suburbs, would surround a quiet yet culturally vibrant downtown. Citizens would be… trustworthy but not nosy, questioning of authority but not judgmental of their neighbors. Women would have engaging, but not all-consuming, jobs close to home. (Buettner, Dan. “The Happiest places in the World.” Delta Sky, January 2011: 73.)
While Tetzave focuses almost exclusively on the priestly vestments, inanimate garments that in no obvious way relate to the concept of human happiness, it was the initial bearer of these begadim, Aharon HaKohen, who epitomized the true essence of happiness. Aharon’s happiness did not emerge from a sense of material contentment but rather from a generosity of the spirit.
With regards to (Moshe’s) fear that (Aharon) will be vexed (because of Moshe’s appointment as the Jewish leader), on the contrary, he will rejoice, as it says: “And when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.” (Shemos 4:14) R’ Shimon, the son of R’ Yose, said: “The heart that rejoiced at the greatness of his brother shall be vested with the Urim v’Tumim, as it says: ‘And they shall be upon Aharon’s heart’.” (ibid. 30) (Shemos Rabbah 3:17)
It was also his happiness that made Aharon the proper person to offer the incense. “All of the offerings are made for some purpose or another, except for the ketores, which came for only one purpose — happiness.” (Tanchuma, Tetzave, 15)
Aharon did not require external stimulants to achieve a deep seated sense of contentment. For him, there was no greater thrill than to widen his expansive heart even further by befriending another person, seeking out his needs and interests, and restoring peace between quarreling parties. In so doing, he brought each person that much closer to his Creator, and saw himself as a true advocate for his people each and every day as his fulfilled his holy vocation. “Be a follower of Aharon: Love peace and pursue peace, love your fellow creatures and draw them close to Torah.” (Avos 1:11)
True happiness can never be achieved through external factors. In the words of the famed Mirrer mashgiach, Harav Yeruchom Levovitz, “a truly happy person does not allow his happiness to be dependent on any external factor over which he may not have control.” (Chochmah Umussar, vol. 2, pp. 331-2) Rather, happiness emerges from a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Aharon HaKohen never got caught up in jealousies and outside stimulants. He was content with his lot (see Avos 4:1), and spent his days trying to make the world a happier place for others. It was through this selfless commitment to the broader klal that allowed him to achieve the greatest possible sense of personal realization and satisfaction.