The Talmud1 relates that a great teacher once called out “Who is the man who desires life?”2 When a crowd was drawn to him, he added the next verse in Psalms,3from which he had been quoting: “Guard your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from speaking falsehood.”

There is one profession which takes the opposite approach, focusing on what will happen if a person does not live long. This is the life insurance salesman. It is a difficult profession, which involves the unpleasant task of reminding people that they are not likely to live forever. Most people would rather plan for life than the opposite.

(A story is told of a man who wanted to write a will leaving an extremely large sum of money to an institution after his lifetime. He asked the Rebbe Rashab how he should proceed and the Rebbe answered that he would do better to plan on living a long life and derive pleasure from seeing the charity have the benefit of his gift immediately.)

What motivates a person to become an insurance agent? The need to make a living, of course. Otherwise, the agent would not disturb the other person by reminding him of unpleasant eventualities. However, the agent believes that he has powers of persuasion which can be used to generate sales.

Of course, it is in the best interests of the life insurance company that the buyer of the policy lives for a very long time, since the company is only obliged to begin payment after the customer’s passing; if the customer is blessed with longevity, both the company and the purchaser of the policy will be happy. The focus on an opposite outcome is all talk, but hopefully will not actually come about. The salesman discusses it only as much as necessary to convince the purchaser to agree to the monthly payments.

These same principles apply in the relationship between body and soul. There are two approaches. The mussar approach is to engage in fasting and penance to “kill” the animal soul of man with physical self-deprivation, fasting, and focusing on his mortality.

The second, more preferable approach is similar to the life insurance salesman. His recollection that he will not live forever is only momentary and remains just in speech. It only serves the purpose of extracting the “payments,” the cooperation of the body in the performance of the commandments.

This second approach recognizes the preciousness of the Jewish body and the importance of maintaining its health for long and good years, just as the insurance company wants to see its clients’ long life.

Sicha of 12 Tammuz, 5711 Toras Menachem, Vol. III, p. 188ff.