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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Sisa: How can we stay happy all the time?
There is a 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, in general, 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 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. For 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 to focus on the good in life in order to be happy. Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud (Ta'anis 29a) explains that the months of Adar and Nissan are months of happiness, due to the miracles that happened to the Jewish people during these months. However, there is a big difference between true happiness and imagined happiness. True happiness is an expression of being content and satisfied with one's lot in life in every situation; whereas, imagined happiness is a superficial, temporary celebration that does not give the person a real sense of feeling good.
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 besides Idol worship, this rejoicing involved sins of adultery and murder. Obviously, such behaviour brought about G'd's wrath upon the Jewish people. Only through Moses' prayers was the Jewish people saved from annihilation (see Shemos 32:10-14). This rejoicing was a classic example of imagined happiness combined with the worst possible conduct. On the other hand, 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. As we mentioned last week, we all have our issues and challenges, so how can we manage to be truly happy at all times. 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
In Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: One crown is better than two (February 18, 2010) we discussed that a person's obligations can be divided into three categories: (1) between man and G'd; (2) between man and his fellow human beings; and (3) how he relates to himself. This applies to a person's lack of happiness as well. Someone 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. Someone else will blame other people for his misery, as he is upset with 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 in order to trust G'd, we must first believe in Him. Our belief in G'd is like a tree. When we trust G'd, we benefit from the fruit of the tree. It is impossible, says the Ramban, to trust someone unless we believe in him. The famous saying that "there is no atheist in a fox hole" shows that when push comes to shove, deep down we all believe in G'd. But in order to live in constant happiness, we 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 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 ship. 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 (commentary on Mishnayoth Sanhedrin 10) goes through the Thirteen Basic Principles of Faith. He explains that to believe in G'd means to be aware that G'd is the Master of the universe Who is in full control of everything that takes place, and, in general, nothing can happen unless He causes it and allows it to take place.
World to Come
In addition, we must recognize that G'd's ultimate purpose of Creation is to bestow goodness upon man, as Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto explains throughout his various books. However, G'd created two worlds. This world was created so that we can toil and earn our reward, whereas the World to Come is where G'd will reward us, in full measure, for all that we achieved 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]."
The banquet hall of the World to Come is open to all humanity. However, the "seating arrangement" is based on our 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.
Our Father, our King
G'd is the King of the entire universe, but He has established a special bond with the Jewish people. He relates to us not only as our King, but also as our Father. In every family, the father is more experienced and understands better what is good for his children, especially when they are young.
Only G'd sees the complete picture
The difference between a young child and the parent is relatively small, compared to the difference between us and G'd. Only G'd, Who created the world, fully comprehends what is good for us and what is not. And only He, Who sees the complete picture in front of Him, knows how every part fits within 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, the parents seem very restrictive and sometimes even cruel 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 disaster had He listened to me." Unlike the immature child, we, as mature adults, do have the ability to understand our own limitations. When we realize this, we can appreciate and be happy even when G'd does things different than we would like. The same applies when He 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 adult, I understand that even when G'd sees the need to guide me using His rod, I feel comforted. For 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, we can accept that even when G'd does not allow what we would like, it is only an expression of His constant love for us, and ultimately it is for our benefit. With this in mind, we can be happy all the time.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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