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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Sisa: Can we be happy all the time?

Summary

Last week we explained the difference between true happiness and imagined happiness. In this week's parasha, the Torah relates how the Jewish people celebrated when they made the golden calf. In real life situations, it can be difficult to always feel happy. A person's conduct can be divided into three areas: (1) between man and G'd; (2) between man and his fellow human beings; and (3) how man relates to himself. The first step to happiness is to believe in G'd and trust Him. Even in the Biblical times, when idol worship was rampant, everybody knew that there is a Creator Who is above any other power they chose to worship. The believer is aware that G'd is the Master of the universe Who is in full control of everything that takes place, and nothing can happen unless He causes it and allows it to take place. The World to Come is where G'd will reward us, in full measure, for whatever we achieved in the time allotted us in this world. The "seating arrangements" in the banquet hall of the World to Come is based on a person's effort in this world. G'd has established a special bond with the Jewish people, as He relates to us not only as our King, but also as our Merciful Father. Only the Master, Who sees the complete picture in front of Him, knows how every part is in harmony with the total picture. Unlike a child, we can be happy even when G'd does things different than we would like, and chastises and restricts us from doing what we want. As a mature person, I understand that even when G'd sees the need to guide me using His rod, it is comforting as I know that it is my loving Father in Heaven that uses His rod to bring me back to the right path. As we put our full trust in our loving and caring Father, we are confident that whatever He does is ultimately for our own good.

True happiness and imagined happiness

Last week we discussed how the months of Adar and Nissan are months of happiness, due to the miracles that happened to the Jewish people during these months. We explained the difference between true happiness and imagined happiness. We defined true happiness as being an expression of being content and satisfied with one's lot in life in every situation; whereas imagined happiness is a superficial, temporary celebration and does not necessarily give the person a real sense of feeling good.

Golden calf

In this week's parasha, the Torah relates how the Jewish people celebrated when they made the golden calf. As it says (Shemos 32:6): "And they arose early the next day and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they got up to rejoice." Rashi quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma (paragraph 20) that this rejoicing involved the worst possible sins: adultery, prohibited relationships and murder. Obviously, such behaviour brought about G'd's wrath upon the Jewish people. Only through Moses' prayers, the Jewish people was saved from being annihilated (Shemos 32:10-14). This rejoicing is an example of imagined happiness connected with evil conduct. On the other hand, as mentioned last week, true happiness is always connected with doing right and observing the Torah commandments.

Difficult to always feel happy

However, in real life situations, it can be difficult to always feel happy. We all have our issues and challenges in life, so how can we manage to be truly happy at all times in all situations. In order to clarify this we must analyze what causes a person not to be happy. Not being happy can manifest itself in many ways. Sometimes it comes from lack of satisfaction and content. At other times, a person may feel angry and frustrated and often the lack of happiness is due to various levels of depression.

Three areas of conduct

Two weeks ago (Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: One crown is better than two, February 18, 2010) we discussed that a person's conduct can be divided into three areas: (1) between man and G'd; (2) between man and his fellow human beings; and (3) how man relates to himself. This applies to a person's lack of happiness as well. A person may be unhappy because of his situation for which he blames G'd. This may relate to his personal life or to occurrences happening to the Jewish people in general. At other times, a person will blame other people for his misery, as he is upset how they treat him or interfere in his personal life and business affairs. Finally, a person may be unhappy when he feels that he does not achieve his goals in life, and blames himself for his shortcomings.

Belief and trust in G'd

The Orchos Tzadikim (Gate of Happiness) explains that the first step to happiness is to believe in G'd and trust Him. The Ramban (Faith and Trust, chapter 1) teaches that belief in G'd is like the tree, and the trust in Him is like the fruit. It is impossible, says the Ramban, to trust someone unless you believe in him. The famous saying that "there is no atheist in a fox hole" shows us that when push comes to shove, deep down everybody believes in G'd. But in order to live in constant happiness, one must tap into the inner resource of faith in G'd all the time.

Idol worshippers fear HASHEM

Even in the Biblical times, when idol worship was rampant, everybody knew that there is a Creator Who is above any other power they chose to worship. In the Book of Jonah (1:5) it says that the sailors called out in distress, each one to his idol. Rashi quotes our sages who explain that there were representatives of all seventy nations of the world on that boat. Each one prayed to his own idol. But when Jonah told them that he is Jewish, and that "he fears HASHEM, the G'd of the Heavens, Who created the seas and the land", they all trembled in great fear (see 1:9-10).

Master of the universe

The Rambam (Thirteen Basic Principles of Faith) defines what it means to believe in G'd. It includes the belief that G'd guides everything that happens, and that He alone is responsible for everything that takes place in the world. The believer is aware that G'd is the Master of the universe Who is in full control of everything that takes place, and nothing can happen unless He caused it and allowed it to take place.

World to Come

In addition, the believer in G'd must recognize what Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto explains throughout his various books, that G'd's ultimate purpose of Creation is to bestow goodness upon man. However, G'd created two worlds. This world was created for man to toil and earn his reward, whereas the World to Come is where G'd will reward us, in full measure, for whatever we achieved in the time allotted us in this world. This is the deeper meaning of the words of the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:21): "This world is comparable to the antechamber to the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber so that you may enter the banquet hall [the World to Come]."

"Seating arrangements"

The World to Come is open to every human being. However, the "seating arrangements" in the banquet hall of the World to Come is based on a person's effort in this world. When G'd chose the Jewish people after we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, we were given the opportunity to fulfill 613 commandments, rather than the 7 Noachide commandments given to the world at large. This obviously entitles us to special seats in the World to Come, since we have to work much harder than everybody else in the world.

Our Father, our King

G'd is the All Powerful King of the whole universe, but He has established a special bond with the Jewish people, as He relates to us not only as our King, but as our Merciful Father. As in every relationship between a father and his children, the father is more experienced and understands better what is good for his children, especially when they are young of age.

Only G'd sees the complete picture

The difference in understanding between a young child and the adult parent is relatively small compared to the difference in understanding between a human being and G'd. Only G'd, Who created the world, fully comprehends what is beneficial for us and what is not. And only the Master, Who sees the complete picture in front of Him, knows how every part is in harmony with the total picture.

Only mature adult can appreciate

A child will often question a parent's decision and bear a grudge against the parent who admonishes and restricts the child. Only when the child matures into adulthood will the child be able to look back and appreciate all the love and care the parent really exhibited. Till then it looks like cruelty in the eyes of the immature child. We often react like children when we question G'd's conduct. The great Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Veda'as, Rabbi Avraham Pam, once said, "When I was young I had many pieces of advice for G'd how to conduct the world. When I grew older I realized that it would have been a catastrophe if He had listened to me." But unlike the immature child, we, as mature adults, have the ability to understand our own limitations. We can therefore appreciate and be happy even when G'd does things different than we would like. The same applies when He chastises and restricts us from doing what we want.

Staff and rod

Chapter 23 is one of the most popular chapters of all Tehillim. Many people find comfort in the beautiful words of King David as he expresses his complete faith in G'd, even in the most difficult situations. In the middle of this chapter he says (verse 4): "Your rod and Your staff comfort me." This seems strange. We can understand that the staff that represents G'd's support is a comfort in difficult times. But how can the rod, that represents G'd's punishment, be a comfort? The answer is that it says Your rod and Your staff. As a mature person, I understand that even when G'd sees the need to guide me using His rod, it is comforting as I know that it is my loving Father in Heaven that uses His rod to bring me back to the right path.

Belief and trust in G'd is the first step

When we internalize that everything that happens to us is being orchestrated by G'd Himself, we can learn to accept that not only when G'd does what we want it is an expression of His constant love for us, His children. Even when things go against what we would like, we must appreciate that G'd only does it for our benefit. Only with this in mind is it possible to be happy all the time with one's lot in life. As we put our full trust in our loving and caring Father, we are confident that whatever He does is ultimately for our good. We must constantly remind ourselves that G'd only wants our benefit, both as a nation and as individuals. With this, we have taken the first step towards constant happiness. With G'd's help, we will continue next week to analyze the other two areas of our lives how to deal with them so that they should not be a deterrent for a life of happiness.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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