Jewish Wellbeing: The 5 Elements

Positive Jewish Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements
by Rabbi Darren Levine, D.Min

Positive Judaism wants to help communities thrive but it starts with the wellbeing of individuals. When people are living their best selves, they have an overwhelming positive effect on their families, their work, and their communities.

There are five elements to wellbeing that are universal across all faiths, cultures, and nationalities. I encourage you to review the findings by Tom Rath and Jim Harter and their team at Gallup who conclude that only 7% of all people thrive in all five of the essential elements: career, social, financial, physical and community. You task is to boost your level of wellbeing in each category. Here’s how:

Rath and Harter show that “contrary to what many people believe, wellbeing is not only about being wealthy or successful. And it’s not limited to physical health and wellness. In fact, focusing on any one of these elements in isolation can drive us to feelings of frustration and isolation.”

As it turns out, these are the same five essential elements to Jewish wellbeing that have been observed for thousands of years.

1. Career Wellbeing/Shlemut Avodah

“Six days you shall do all your work and labor and on the Seventh day you shall rest.” Judaism places great value on work and contributing to society and it has been shown that those “who have the opportunity to use their strengths in work are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.”

If someone says, “I have worked hard, and I have not been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says, “I have not worked hard and I have been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says, “I have worked hard, and I have been successful,” believe him!(The Talmud).

  1. Social Wellbeing/Shlemut Chevrati

Jews are referred to in the Torah as Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, not a religion or dogma but rather a nation of people. The first question most Jewish people ask when they are considering moving to a new place is, “what is the size of the Jewish community?” For a nation of People, social ties are essential.

Fact: studies show that people who spend six hours a day socializing with friends, family, and colleagues have a much greater sense of wellbeing and positivity in their lives and are 50% less likely to be depressed and physically ill.

  1. Financial Wellbeing/Shlemut Caspi

Judaism supports the pursuit of wealth, as long as it is combined with generosity to the poor. The pursuit of wealth alone without a vision to support the needy is condemned. “Of all that You give me, I will set aside a tenth to You” (Genesis 28:22).

That wealth leads to happiness is a myth. Rather, financial security and feeling like you have enough money to support the life you want to live is a more valuable goal than simply, “wealth.”

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph amassed and administered wealth but for the purpose of supporting their family: “Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan” (Gn 31:17–18)

  1. Physical Wellbeing/Shlemut HaGuf

One of the many daily prayers in Judaism focuses on health and posture: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Soverign of the Universe, who straightens the bent.” This points to the importance of being physically strong and healthy. Modern research concludes shows that food, rest, and exercise are the key ingredients to a person’s physical well being. Moses Maimonides in the 12th century taught the same.

“A person should aim to maintain physical health and vigor, in order that their soul may be upright, in a condition to know God. For it is impossible for one to understand sciences and meditate upon them when he is hungry or sick, or when any of his limbs is aching.”

  1. Communal Wellbeing/Shlemut Kehliah

In order to be a suitable place to live, a community must provide for all of its members’ spiritual and physical needs.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 17B) teaches that a Torah scholar is forbidden to live in a city that does not have these ten things: a court of law to keep justice and determine punishments; a charity fund that is collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a bath house; a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a butcher,  and a teacher of children”

These ten things require the members of a community to support their existence and to be involved in their success. There is a direct correlation between one’s well being and the amount of time and energy they put into “giving back” to their community. In fact, the difference between living an exceptional life verses a good life is related to their contribution to something greater than themselves.