Joyous Thoughts For The Jaded Jew
MyLife Essay Contest 2016
“There ain’t no road to happiness, happiness IS the road.”
As a young girl I always imagined myself, all grown up as a happy chassidic wife, and mother, who “has it all together.” As my dreams actualized, I began to get caught up in the ordinary obstacles of my life. I also began to see my vision of a happy woman fade away with the advent of my growing daily family grind, financial constraints, and work demands.
With much on my mind, I attended a shiur given by a well-respected woman, which brought my feelings on the disparity between my vision, and my actual life, to a head. She mentioned a tragic story about an angry, rebellious girl. The way she put it was; “The typical, situation, she grew up in a large family, small apartment, no money, etc”. This described my family to a “T”. My face became red. Tears began streaming through my insides. Is that the way things work? Is that the destiny for my children? The thoughts and sinking feeling, consumed me for the next few days. I knew that people are capable of rising above their circumstances, but how did they do it? How could I do it?
With all this on my mind, an answer came to me from a verse in Hallel: “…as a happy mother of children, let us praise Hashem.” Those words fed me the answer I was looking for. When the mother is happy, everyone praises Hashem. It felt true to me in my gut, and I set myself on a mission to figure out for myself what the rules of happiness are, and how I could get there, with everything in my life staying as it is.
What does Chassidus Have to do with Happiness?
The original chassidim were nicknamed “Di Freilicher” (The joyous ones). Their genuine happiness was the direct outcome of elaborate contemplation on multifaceted and rich Chassidic thoughts, based on the ever-relevant Torah Teachings. Chassidus provided me with the tools to shift perspective and demeanor, and here’s what I learned.
Why is it so important to be Happy?
Tanya offers a great behavioral mastery program which the Alter Rebbe explains, will not be successful if one is not happy.
Why is that?
The Tanya explains that there is a palpable energy that comes from being happy. That energy is so powerful, that in a wrestling match, a weaker party can win, if his opponent is depressed, and he is happy. Similarly, for us to conquer our inner battles, we need to be B’Simcha.
What are we so happy about?
The Rambam writes that we are happy because Hashem chose us, and gave us the Mitzvos to directly connect with Him. The distance between us and Him is incomprehensible, yet He chose us. Our connection is unbreakable because our soul is a part of Hashem, invested in us. We have 613 types of opportunities to strengthen our connection with our Source.
An average person gets dressed to go to work, then goes to work in order to make money. He earns money in order to buy things. Everything he does is a means to a goal with no end in sight.
As a woman adapting this Chassidic outlook, from the moment, I wake up, I have a constant opportunity to connect with Hashem. From the way I get dressed, to the way I speak to my family members and everything in between, I’m connecting. There’s purpose every single moment of every day, by having a positive impact in my circle of influence. Through doing my best in the exact circumstances Hashem chose for me, I can purify and sanctify all that I come in contact with.
Once Reb Zushe and R’ Meilech were traveling through a town, and were accused of thievery and thrown into jail. They accepted their situation, but felt sad that they couldn’t Daven there due to the chamber-pot in their cell, that renders the place unfit for prayer. When they realized that the same Hashem who wants them to pray in every other situation, wants them to refrain in this situation, they were filled with great happiness that they are fulfilling Hashem’s will and they began to dance. The guards, who had heard that the happy commotion was due to the chamberpot, promptly removed the pail, and they were able to pray in peace.
Recognizing that Hashem chose the exact circumstances that I can influence, changed my inner story. Understanding that I have purpose precisely here-where I am, helped me view my struggles with acceptance, and discover the diamonds I had failed to see previously.
Is Happiness a choice?
In America, the pursuit of Happiness is considered a right. It even says so in the Declaration of Independence. It’s clear that Americans take it very seriously and are hot in it’s pursuit. The happiness a new gadget results in, is fleeting, of course. So Apple launches a new version of the iPhone, and the lines outside their stores grow long, yet again.
According to Torah, Happiness is not a right, a pursuit, or even a goal. It is an obligation. Hashem asks and expects us to serve Him with joy. Our Torah, empowers us with the incredible reality, that we can actually choose to be happy. Chassidic thought points out that happiness can lead one to greater heights than any mitzvah.
Hashem Loves Me, Myself, and I:
Reb Zusha of Anapoli, said, “When my soul ascends to Heaven, I’m not afraid that Hashem is going to ask me why I wasn’t holy like Moshe Rabbeinu. strong like Shimshon, or smart like King Shlomo. I’m afraid He’ll ask me why I wasn’t the best Zushe I could be”. I remind myself, that Hashem created me, precisely as I am, with my physical and spiritual makeup, my baggage, my habits, talents and limitations. If Hashem would’ve wanted another Moshe, He would have created one. But He didn’t, He created Me. He needs, and wants me. I can bring Him nachas!
Our nation has kept the mitzvot and performed them with care, endless times. Chassidus teaches that when I, the one and only me, performs the task at hand in a G-dly way, within my circumstances, with my feelings, and struggles, THAT is a new and unique experience. That is incredibly precious to Hashem.
Humility: A Path to Happiness
Hashem creates and orchestrates the entire world in all its details, at every given moment. The entire world is fully dependent on His constant flow of energy into this world, keeping it in existence. Without that, the world would immediately return to its former state of nothingness. That being so, Hashem is the only true existence and we are merely nothing of our own standing.
This humbling thought creates an appreciation for all the gifts Hashem presents to us at every given moment, from our inner emotional and intellectual capacities to the external comforts we have.
Humility leading to happiness is illustrated by the joyous excitement when one wins the lottery, in contrast to the haughty feeling of “I deserve it”, when receiving a paycheck.
When I accept that Hashem figured out all the minute details of my life, family, money, etc., I understand that I belong Here, in my situation. It’s no mistake. That thought removes worry from my system. This frees me up to focus on the only area Hashem hands over to me – my connection to Him.
The Wealth of Happiness
The Mishna teaches us “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot”. Chassidus elaborates that one needs to be happy with his material lot and pursue his spiritual goals. Attempting to fill our spiritual void with materialism is a fruitless pursuit that leaves little energy for spiritual, inner happiness.
In the material world, comparison is the thief of joy. With social network access at our fingertips, it’s up to us to make the very conscious choice to stay away from media that encourages the comparison between our dullest moments, and our friends’ most perfect-looking ones, freeing us to appreciate the gifts we already have.
When we’re in a grateful and in a non-comparing space, we can resist the urge to endlessly scroll through the clothing sites in an attempt to create an image that competes with the Joneses. We can than refocus our energies into personal spiritual growth, resulting in deep, meaningful and enduring fulfillment.
Hashem Understands Me:
The Tanya specifies the two levels of a Beinoni (the Intermediate); One who is serving Hashem and one who is not. In these two categories, both people are identically holy on the outside, but one is working much harder to get there.
Unlike a teacher grading students equally, without consideration for their differing IQ’s, Hashem knows the difference. Hashem knows me. He knows what I am made of, and all my inner thoughts and feelings, struggles, and the effort I put in to doing the right thing.
When Things Go Wrong:
Hashem cares for me and loves me like a parent. He is in control of everything, even the painful details of my life. That being so, chassidus gives three perspectives we can use to understand the pain and suffering we experience.
Firstly, suffering is a springboard for something good or growth. The hurt develops sensitivities to others. It’s pain with a purpose, like labor preceding childbirth, or investing money and knowing that it will grow.
Secondly, the actual suffering is good, we just can’t understand or appreciate it due to our limited human understanding. This is compared to a stirring symphony to a deaf ear. Hashem is infinite, and we can’t comprehend His ways. Similarly, when a mother takes a knife away from her child, the child perceives his mother as being mean even though it is actually kindness.
Thirdly, suffering is actually a greater good, that came down to this world from a higher world skipping some levels. It didn’t go through the regular route. Therefore, it transcends nature, and is not perceived in the physical world as goodness.
The practical route to happiness:
Chassidus teaches us that when we give of ourselves to another Jew, it brings Hashem the greatest pleasure. He, in turn, gifts us with an innate feeling of deep pleasure for doing kindness for another.
Hashem created the world in a way that one person is incredibly rich and the other can’t earn a dime. One person is healthy and another is frail. His purpose was so that we can all help each other, as everyone has something to give.
When I am about to create a pity party for myself, I find I can easily disengage from my self-absorption and misery by being of help to another Jew.
Joy is a necessary choice in my life as a Jew. As a Chassid, I embrace happiness by reflecting on, and recognizing Hashem in every detail of my life, and understanding the depth of my connection with Him. When my joyfulness is challenged I try to refocus on spirituality and tune in to the needs of others.
Even though my family has since moved out of our small apartment, the grateful attitude we’ve worked on, we hope to never outgrow.