Peace of Mind

Joshua Loth Liebman


Once, as a young man, I undertook to draw up a catalogue of the acknowledged goods of life. I set down my inventory of earthly desirables: health, love, talent, power, riches, and fame. Then I proudly showed it to a wise elder. An excellent list, said my old friend, and set down in reasonable order. But you have omitted the one important ingredient, lacking which your list becomes an intolerable burden. He crossed out my entire schedule. Then he wrote down three syllables: peace of mind. This is the gift that God reserves for His special protégés, he said. Talent and health He gives to many. Wealth is commonplace, fame not rare. But peace of mind He bestows charily. This is no private opinion of mine, he explained. I am merely paraphrasing from the Psalmists, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-tse. “O God, Lord of the universe,” say these wise ones, “heap worldly gifts at the feet of foolish men. Give me the gift of the untroubled mind.” I found that difficult to accept; but now, after a quarter of a century of personal experience and professional observation, I have come to understand that peace of mind is the true goal of the considered life. I know now that the sum of all other possessions does not necessarily add up to peace of mind; on the other hand, I have seen this inner tranquility flourish without the material supports of property or even the buttress of physical health. Peace of mind can transform a cottage into a spacious manor hall; the want of it can make a regal residence an imprisoning shell. Where then shall we look for it? The key to the problem is to be found in Matthew Arnold’s lines: We would have inward peace. But [should be “Yet”] will not look within . . . But will not look within! Here, in a single phrase, our willfulness is bared.


Joshua Loth Liebman, from Peace of Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946).

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 9.

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