No rest for the weary…

(This post is a different treatment of the same themes as “Mas’ei — the Journey as a Name of G-d“.)

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן.

And Yaaqov settled in the land of his fathers’ dwelling, in the land of Canaan.

– Bereishis 37:1

(איוב ט) “אם שוט ימית פתאום…”
אנטונינוס שאל את רבינו, אמר לו: מהו דכתיב: אם שוט ימית פתאום?
אמר רבי: גזור דיסב מאה מגלבין, והוא יהיבין מאה דינרים, דין סכום לדין, ודין סכום לדין, ולא מפקין מידיה כלום, כענין הזה מלעיג על המוכה. (שם) למסת נקיים ילעג.
אמר רבי אחא: בשעה שהצדיקים יושבים בשלוה, ומבקשים לישב בשלוה בעולם הזה, השטן בא ומקטרג. אמר: לא דיין שהוא מתוקן להם לעולם הבא, אלא שהם מבקשים לישב בשלוה בעולם הזה. תדע לך שהוא כן, יעקב אבינו ע”י שבקש לישב בשלוה בעוה”ז, נזדווג לו שטנו של יוסף.

“If the scourge slay suddenly[, it will mock the tragedy of the blameless.]” (Iyov 9:23)

Anthony asked our rebbe [R' Yehudah haNasi]. He said so him “What does it mean, ‘If the scourge slay suddenly…’?”

Rebbe answered: [Say] it was decreed that he would have 100 lashes and he would get 100 dinar [for his suffering]. But only the full amount [of lashes] matches the full amount [of pay], and the full amount [of pay] matches the full amount [of lashes]. Like this they mock the battered — “it will mock the tragedy of the blameless”.

Rav Acha said: “When the righteous dwell in tranquillity or desire to dwell in tranquillity in this world, the satan comes and accuses. He says: ‘Is it not enough that which is prepared for them in the World to Come not enough, that they seek to dwell in tranquility in this world?’  You should know that this is so, for Yaaqov avinu sought to dwell in serenity in this world and the ‘Satan’ of Yosef attached himself to Yaakov: ‘Yaakov settled down’, but ‘I had no tranquility, no quiet, no rest, and trouble came’ (Iyov 3:26):

  • ‘I had no tranquility’—from Esav;
  • ‘No quiet’—from Lavan;
  • ‘No rest’—from Dina;
  • ‘And trouble came’—the trouble of Yosef.”

– Medrash Rabba ad loc (84:3), quoted by Rashi

Why is it so terrible that Yaaqov wanted to rest? He finally got out from behind his conflicts with Eisav and with Lavan, would it have been so bad had Hashem just given him a few years of peace?

Rashi  quotes Rav Acha. The righteous are getting the world to come, that should be enough for them. The reason why, though, is more inherent in Rebbe’s words. A person is in this world to accomplish something. No matter how much that person accomplishes, getting only most of the way there isn’t getting the job done.

בן זומא אומר: … איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו. שנאמר: (תהלים קכח:ב): “יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך.” “אשריך” — בעולם הזה. “וטוב לך” — לעולם הבא.

Ben Zoma would say: … Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot. As it is said: ‘When you eat from the toil of your hands, you are fortunate and it is good for you’ (Psalms 128:2). ‘You are fortunate’ — in this world; ‘and it is good for you’ — in the World to Come.

– Avos 4:1

When speaking publicly, I often use this story from the Kotzker Rebbe, a Chassidic master known for his sharp wit.

The Kotzker Rebbe once asked his students: There are two people on a ladder, one on the fourth rung, and another on the 10th, which one is higher?

The book where I saw this thought doesn’t record his students’ answers. I assume some recognized it as a trick question, and answered that it was the one on the fourth, some answered the 10th figuring the rebbe was leading them somewhere, and others were silent. But the rebbe’s answer was succinct, “It depends who is climbing the ladder, and who is going down.”

What is relevant isn’t our state at any point in time, it’s how we’re changing.

Given that idea, I think ben Zoma’s notion of my lot in life is the path Hashem placed before me to travel. Not where I stand now physically, socially, psychologically or spiritually. Not even where G-d is leading me. My lot is the trip along the way. The whole roller coaster ride, the peaks and the dips.

My lot isn’t what I have at any particular point in time. Not in the physical sense, although someone who makes $25,000 a year and is content is certainly wealthier than the millionare who is consumed with craving his next million. My lot, in ben Zoma’s sense, isn’t even my current spiritual state. It’s the road I’m to travel.

And I think this was Yaaqov avinu‘s mistake. He chose to rest, thinking it was time to be content with what he had then, rather than the notion of life in the process. He hadn’t finished all the work necessary for his life’s mission; it wasn’t time yet to stop.

I think this understanding is reinforced by Ben Zoma’s choice of proof-text and its image of eating by the work of one’s hands. “‘Fortunate’ in this world”, along the way, “and ‘it is good for you’ in the world to come” in terms of what you accomplish. The verse’s language can be taken as one of process, working toward a goal.

Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.

- Richard Bach

The Alter of Kelm (R’ Simcha Zisl Ziv 1824-1898, Lithuania) says something similar in Chomkhmah uMussar, but nothing I could figure out how to reduce to a “sound bite”. Self perfection is the work of a life-time, but that’s exactly why we were given a lifetime.

The whole being-vs-becoming distinction is central to existentialism. Kierkegaard’s central problem was that of becoming a Christian, in explicit contrast to being one.

Sartre’s “Existence precedes the essence” is about the fact that the essence of a person is the process his existence follows. And thus a person exists before his essence does. In contrast to a building, where the essence inhabits the architect’s mind and blueprints before it exists. You could know everything there is to know about a table just by knowing how it will be built and what it’s from. Essence precedes existence. Not so for people.

[M]an first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world — and defines himself afterwards.

- Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

Here’s a related thought from R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch’s (1808-1888, Germany) commentary on themes from Mishlei:

Man can aspire to spiritual-moral greatness which is seldom fully achieved and easily lost again. Fulfillment lies not in a final goal, but in an eternal striving for perfection.

The Alter of Novhardok (R’ Yosef-Yoizl Horowitz 1849-1919) studied under the aforementioned Alter of Kelm. (Alter is a title meaning “elder”; the intent of their students in using this title was to connote a grandfather-grandson relationship.) Here’s a related quote, also from my signature generator, from his Madreigas ha’Adam, but written in the reverse:

Man wants to achieve greatness overnight, and he wants to sleep well that night too.

Last, a thought from the Mussar Movement’s founder, R’ Yisrael Salanter (Lipkin 1810-1883, Lithuania), along the same lines as R’ Hirsch (above):

One doesn’t learn mussar to be a tzaddik, but to become a tzaddik.

The knowledge that this process is what constitutes my curriculum, something tailored specifically for the needs of my soul is quite comforting. The notion that there is something that Hashem’s plan for the universe needed me to do — and only I can do it.

The “payment” Rebbe speaks of is the World to Come. And perhaps, although this may just be homiletics, we could use this identification of “cheileq” (lot / portion) with the person’s entire path through life to explain a grammatical anomaly in another mishnah. The first mishnah in Sanhedrin pereq “Cheileq” (ch. 10 or 11, depending upon edition) begins:

כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא. שנאמר (ישעיה ס) “וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים, לְעוֹלָם יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ; נֵצֶר מטעו מַטָּעַי מַעֲשֵׂה יָדַי, לְהִתְפָּאֵר.”

All of Israel [Rambam: in good standing, i.e. those who believe the 13 foundations of our faith] have a portion toward the world to come. As it says “And your nation, they are all righteous, they shall inherit the land eternally; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, for glorifying Myself.”

(The proof is based on the idea that only the World to Come is a “land” which a person holds eternally.)

Notice the mishnah says that every Jew has a “cheileq le‘olam haba — a portion toward the world to come.” Why doesn’t it say “cheileq be‘olam haba — a portion in the world to come”? Perhaps the mishnah is referring to cheileq in our sense of the term, a person’s lot in terms of their entire existence. In which case, we should translate the mishnah as, “All of Israel have an existence that is a path leading to the world to come”. And, as the Rambam warns, assuming they choose to actually grasp that entire path and walk the road to its intended conclusion.

When I start to feel like I’ve been treading water too long and my arms are getting tired and I’m scared that my head will soon go under, I try to return to the mental image that epiphany gave me. (And I hope I relayed, as it’s hard to convey an epiphany, as I can’t share that “Aha!” feeling, just paint the ideas.)  It doesn’t always work, but overall the idea helps keep me sane.

My lot in life is the ladder that I alone can climb. This is climbing the ladder, the process of becoming, Rav Hirsch’s “eternal striving”, the work of a lifetime, not a single night (with a good night’s sleep fitted into it, to boot!). It is the job for which G-d created me as I am, when I live and where I live, with the people I know, the responsibilities I face, and the challenges He throws at me, solely because this is something His great plan required that required his having a Micha Berger to do it.

What Shabbos is For

shared on February 21st on the Cross-Currents blog a beautiful thought by Rabbi Yaakov Estreicher. To quote:

Rabbi Estreicher presented Shabbos as the key to experiencing life with joy, of rejoicing in one’s portion. He noted how rare it is to meet someone overflowing with joy. If we asked someone how he was, and he responded enthusiastically by enumerating at great length everything there is to be grateful for, we would likely suspect him of having a screw loose or partaking of illicit stimulants.

But that is precisely what Shabbos allows us to do. On Shabbos, we refrain from all melachah – which, as Rabbi Estreicher explained at length, refers not to the expenditure of energy, but to creative activity – and are therefore forced to view the world as complete, and not in need of any further improvement. We learn to appreciate what we have.

Rabbi Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak, Shabbos 5) emphasizes this point. He writes that in the verse, “And Elokim saw es kol (all) that He had made and behold it was very good,” kol does not refer to all the many things He had created, but is rather the language of completion, klila. Elokim saw how the entire creation fit together in one seamless whole, and that was the tov meod.

Thus in the blessing Yotzer Or during the week, we say, “ma rabu ma’asecha – how manifold are Your works,” but on Shabbos, we say “ma gadlu ma’asecha – how great are Your works.” “Manifold” refers to the multitude of infinite detail; “great” refers to the way in which all those details fit together in one perfect tapestry.

It is natural and proper that during the week, we should notice all that can be improved and needs to be done. That is part of what it means to be partners with Hashem in tikkun olam. But there also has to be a time when we cease thinking about all that is lacking and acting upon those thoughts, and instead contemplate the world as if were complete, without any further need of our creative input. Rav Hai Gaon instructs us to view ourselves on Shabbos like someone who has finished all the work of building a beautiful house, just as the world was complete in Hashem’s eyes, “Va’yechal Elokim b’yom ha’svi’i.

The ability to stop trying to fix things, and to instead step back and appreciate all that we have been given and how perfectly apportioned it is to our present task in life is the source of the most profound joy. Rabbi Hutner notes the difference between the description of our approach to Shabbos – “ve’karata l’Shabbos oneg (You shall call Shabbos oneg) – and that of Yom Tov – “ve’samachta b’chagecha (You shall rejoice on your festival). The latter is expressed in terms of concrete acts of simcha – e.g., eating meat and drinking wine. Krias shem, by contrast, is primarily expressed as contemplation of the essence of Shabbos, which is oneg. Through the appreciation of the perfection of one’s world, one experiences a harhavas da’as – an expansion of understanding – that can be expressed in even the smallest addition l’kavod Shabbos.

I thought of this recently while learning an upcoming daf from Yerushalmi Yomi.
Moed Qatan 3:5, 15b in the Vilna ed. near the bottom of the page:

רבי יוסי בי רבי חלפתא הוה משבח בי ר”מ קומי ציפוראיי, “אדם גדול”, “אדם קדוש”, “אדם צנוע”
חד זמן אבילייא בשובתא ושאל בון.
אמרין ליה “ר’ אהגו דאת מתני שבחיה?” אמר לון “מה עבד?” אמרו ליה “חמא אבילייא בשובתא ושאל בון.” אמר לון “בעיי אתון מידע מהו חייליה? בא להודיענו שאין אבל בשבת. דכתיב (משלי י) ‘בִּרְכַּת ה’ הִיא תַעֲשִׁיר’ — זו ברכת שבת. ‘וְלֹא-יוֹסִף עֶצֶב עִמָּהּ ‘ — זו אבילות. כמה דאת אמר (שמואל ב יט) “נֶעֱצַב הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל-בְּנוֹ.”

Rabbi Yosi bei Rabbi Chalafta used to praise Rabbi Meir in front of the residents of Tzipori, [saying he was] “a great man”, “a holy man”, “a modest man.
One day there was a mourner on Sahbbos, and [Rabbi Meir] asked about his welfare. [It was not the custom to greet mourners even on Shabbos in Tziporrei, although in many other areas it was.]
They said to [R' Yossi b"r Chalafta], “Rebbi is this the man you repeat the praises of?” He said to them, “What did he do?” They said to him, “He saw a mourner on Shabbos and asked about his welfare!” He said to them, “Do you know why he came here? He came to teach us that there is no mourning on Shabbos. As it says (Mishlei 10:22) ‘The blessing of Hashem, it makes you rich’ — that is the blessing of Shabbos. ‘And no toil (etzev) would add to it’ — that’s mourning. As it says (Shemuel II 19:3) “And the king [David] grieved (ne’etzav) for his son [Avshalom].”

The verse in Mishlei refers to a blessing that toil or grief — the root /עצב/ is being used in this derashah for both — could add to. And the gemara concludes this is the blessing of Shabbos. And what does the blessing of Shabbos provide? Wealth. But what is wealth? Of course:

… איזה הוא עשיר? השמח בחלקו. שנאמר “יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל, אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ.” (תהילים קכח,ב)

… Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. As it says, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are enriched and it is good for you.” (Tehillim 128:2)

When teaching for The Mussar Institute, Ben Zoma’s rhetorical Q&A comes up a lot. Which leads to the obvious question of how one can be both happy with their lot and yet not complacent? Always wanting the latest car might not be happiness or contentment, but the same is true of always wanting the next mitzvah opportunity, to understand the next page of gemara, etc? How does one find the balance? And if one needs balance, then how is someone who only has the contentment side richer than someone who has the balance between contentment and meaningful goals?

I therefore suggested that Ben Zoma’s notion of “chelqo” isn’t what I have now, but my entire cheileq in this world — from birth to death. Who is wealthy? One who is happy with the path Hashem laid out for him (and keeps on re-laying each time he steps off and needs a new one). If I were capable of that, I would be able to properly utilize what I have, and realize there is no need for what I don’t. And this is why Ben Zoma’s proof-text from Tehillim revolves around labor, and enjoying the fruit of one’s labor.

If I may suggest a variant on R’ Esteicher’s thought (as explained by RJR):

First, notice how well his language of Shabbos is a time when I step out of the path Hashem set me upon, my cheileq that I alone can accomplish, and look at it as a whole. Going beyond the striving of the moment, all the creative activity of the work week and looking at the kelilah, the complete whole, and “vehinei tov me’od — it is very good.”

Hopeless

(For an earlier post on depression and hopelessness, see “Raba Got Up and Slaughtered Rav Zeira” about a famous gemara about Purim. This thought comes mostly from R’ Menachem Zupnik, said a number of years ago, with some embellishments of my own. (Some conscious, some due to memory drift.)

 

We say in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei: “Velamalshinim, al tehi siqvah — And for the informants, let there be no hope…” An earlier nusach, pre-censorship and still used in some German communities, opened with “Velameshumadim“, referring to people who convert out. Sepharadim open with “Laminim velamalshinim — the heretics and the informants.”

Generally, this is understood to mean “let them have nothing to be hopeful about”, i.e. let them — or better, their sinful behavior — die and be destroyed. Which is the theme of the rest of the berakhah.

But rather than making this line yet another iteration of the same concept, we could take the words at face value. What could be a worse fate for fifth columnists among us who assist our enemies, for anyone, than hopelessness? With hope, one can bear pain. Without hope, even the calmest life is painful. A person with cancer could still grasp at moments of happiness. A person with severe depression cannot.

Perhaps this is why the Jewish response to losing someone close to us is Qaddish. “Yisgadel veyisqadeish Shemei rabba…” May you make Your Great Name [i.e. His reputation among His creation] be enlarged and sanctified…” When life knocks one down, we use bitachon (trust in the Almighty) to find hope for the future.

Two Temidim a Day

The Shulchan Aruch, section Orakh Chaim opens as follows (1:1)

יתגבר כארי לעמוד בבוקר לעבודת בוראו, שיהא הוא מעורר השחר.
הגה: ועכ”פ לא יאחר זמן התפלה שהצבור מתפללין (טור).
הגה: שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד (תהילים טז, ח), הוא כלל גדול בתורה ובמעלות הצדיקים אשר הולכים לפני האלהים, כי אין ישיבת האדם ותנועותיו ועסקיו והוא לבדו בביתו, כישיבתו ותנועותיו ועסקיו והוא לפני מלך גדול, ולא דבורו והרחבת פיו כרצונו והוא עם אנשי ביתו וקרוביו, כדבורו במושב המלך. כ”ש כשישים האדם אל לבו שהמלך הגדול הקב”ה, אשר מלא כל הארץ כבודו, עומד עליו ורואה במעשיו, כמו שנאמר: אם יסתר איש במסתרים ואני לא אראנו נאם ה’ (ירמיה כג, כד), מיד יגיע אליו היראה וההכנעה בפחד השי”ת ובושתו ממנו תמיד (מורה נבוכים ח”ג פ’ נ”ב), ולא יתבייש ב מפני בני אדם המלעיגים עליו בעבודת השי”ת. גם בהצנע לכת ובשכבו על משכבו ידע לפני מי הוא שוכב, ג ומיד שיעור משנתו יקום בזריזות לעבודת בוראו יתברך ויתעלה (טור).

[One must] make himself as strong as a lion to get up in the morning for service of his Creator, that he should wake up at dawn.

Ram”a: At least, one should not delay beyond the time when the congregation prays (Tur).

Ram”a: “I have set Hashem before me constantly” (Psalms 16:8); this is a major principle in the Torah and among the virtues of the righteous who walk before God. For a person’s way of sitting, his movements and his dealings while he is alone in his house are not like his way of sitting, his movements and his dealings when he is before a great king; nor are his speech and free expression as much as he wants when he is with his household members and his relatives like his speech when in a royal audience. All the more so when one takes to heart that the Great King, the Holy One, blessed is He, Whose glory fills the earth, is standing over him and watching his actions, as it is stated: “‘Will a man hide in concealment and I will not see him?’ – the word of G-d” (Jeremiah 23:24), he immediately acquires fear and submission in dread of G-d, may He be blessed, and is ashamed before Him constantly (Guide for the Perplexed 3:52). And one should not be ashamed because of people who mock him in his service of G-d, and should also go modestly. And when he lies on his bed he should know before Whom he lies, and as soon as he wakes up from sleep he should rise eagerly to the service of his Creator, may he Be blessed and exalted (Tur).

Orach Chaim concludes with the laws of Purim. The very last se’if (697:1) reads:

יום י”ד וט”ו שבאדר ראשון אין נופלים על פניהם, ואין אומרים מזמור יענך ה’ ביום צרה, ואסור בהספד ותענית; אבל שאר דברים אין נוהגים בהם; וי”א דאף בהספד ותענית מותרים.
הגה: והמנהג כסברא הראשונה. י”א שחייב להרבות במשתה ושמחה בי”ד שבאדר ראשון (טור בשם הרי”ף) ואין נוהגין כן, מ”מ ירבה קצת בסעודה כדי לצאת ידי המחמירים; וטוב לב משתה תמיד (משלי ט”ו, ט”ו) (הגהות מיימוני בשם סמ”ק).

On the 14th and 15th of Adar I [in a two Adar year] we do not fall on our faces [to say Tachanun], and we do not say “Mizmor: Yaankha Hashem beYom Tzarah” and eulogizing and fasting are prohibited. However the other things [of Purim] are not practiced on them, and some say even eulogizing and fasting are permitted.

Ram”a: And the practice is like the first reasoning. Some say that there is an obligation to have a lot of feasting and happiness on the 14th of Adar I (Tur in the name of the Rif) and we do not practice this. In any case, he should increase somewhat in his meals in order to fulfil the position of those who are stringent — “and a good heart is constantly celebrating” (Mishlei 15:15). (Hagahos Maimoni in the name of the Semaq)

The first hing I wish to note is that Orach Chaim, the guide to hand washing, tzitzis, prayer, blessings, Shabbos, other holidays, and in general a lot of ritual opens and closes with a discussion of middos! The first halakhah is about zerizus (alacrity), which the Rama ties to yir’ah (fear/awe) by citing “I have set Hashem before me constantly” and it closes with a discussion of simchah, happiness!

Rav Aharon Rakeffet Rothkoff recently discussed this in a shiur he gave at the Gruss Kollel. (A recording is available on YUTorah.org here.)

One Purim at the se’udah, when people were feeling a little levity, Rav Chaim Volozhiner asked his Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon, for a berakahah. The Vilna Gaon blessed him that he would merit bring two temidim daily. Rav Chaim was thrown — we do not bring the tamid, the twice-daily offering, today as there is no beis hamiqdash! (Should I deduce from this that Rav Chaim was a kohein? After all, it was possible there would have been a third beis hamiqdash in his lifetime, but being a non-kohein would rule out the possibility in any eventuality.)

The Vilna Gaon referred him to the glosses of the Rama that we quoted. The Rama opens with a quote from Tehillim “שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד — I have set Hashem before me constantly” and he ends with a quote from Mishlei “וטוב לב משתה תמיד – and a good heart is constantly celebrating”. These two appearance of “tamid“, constant yir’ah and constant simchah are the two tamid offerings one can bring daily!

The Pursuit of Happiness

Rabbi Noah Weinberger of Aish haTorah, in the summary of his 48 Ways to Wisdom (an elaboration of the 48 steps to acquiring Torah listed in Avos, beraisa 6:6) on aish.com, writes:

Did you ever begin a stimulating physical activity and then discover you somehow can’t extricate yourself? You pick up a bag of potato chips, and start eating two, three, four, five. Before you know it you’re at the bottom of the bag. You didn’t really want any more, but you couldn’t stop. You passed the point of diminishing returns and now you feel sick.

While physical pleasure is an essential part of enjoying life, at the same time, we have to know how to control it and harness it. Way #18 is b’miut ta’anug – “minimize physical pleasure.” You cannot just eat chocolate bars the whole day long. That is not living.

Human beings are pleasure-seekers. The more pleasure, the more power. Figure out how to transform raw physical sensation into the deeper pleasures of love, meaning, creativity. Don’t worry – you won’t lose the physical pleasure. You’ll actually enhance and appreciate it more.

And:

Human beings are pleasure-seekers. Most people seek pleasure in careers, vacations, cars and homes. In our generation, many people grumble about obligations as unpleasant aggravations. Perhaps that’s why many today wait so long to get married. Imagine being tied down with responsibilities and children to support!

This is a shallow view. It may be difficult to fulfill obligations, but there’s tremendous pleasure in getting done what has to get done. You’re actualizing your potential. That’s real meaning, real pleasure. It’s energizing.

Way #33 is Ohev et ha’tzedakot — literally “love righteousness.” Once you realize the pleasure of fulfilling obligations, it’s much easier to carry them out. And if you have to do them anyway, you might as well take pleasure!

I find I can not agree with the concept that “human beings are pleasure-seekers”. Not so much that it’s wrong as that I think that if we think about what gives us pleasure and makes us happy, the statement loses content.

This ties directly into my previous post “Who is wealthy?” One’s lot in life is a process, not a particular static state. The wealthy person is one who accepts their process, their curriculum, their mission in Hashem’s plan for the universe — to give three very different sounding descriptions of the same thing.

Similarly, happiness is in the process. As creative beings, we want to constantly be heading toward something new. Valuing pleasure is fleeting, the goal is aquired and life goes on. “He who has a maneh [a coin worth 100 zuz] wants 200 [zuz].” The amount necessary to acheive ta’anug, contentment, moves ever upward because we need the pursuit in order to be happy.

It’s not that people seek pleasure, it’s that pleasure is the emotion associated with searching.  We are depressed when things didn’t go as we wished. We are worried when we reason to believe they may not. We assign pleasure with the goal of pursuit, and happiness is the feeling that our pursuit is succeeding.

Bitachon is trust that our life’s process and the events and changes in it are part of Hashem’s plan. And thus the key to happiness is aligning our pursuit with that process as He guides it to play out. For someone with bitachon, happiness is inevitable.

Simchah and Oneg

Simchah is related to wanting and having, because Ben Zoma defines the wealthy person as “sameiach bechelqo — happy with his lot”.

The Tanya speaks about how each aspect of the soul lives in tension between “ratzon - desire/will” and ta’anug. Thus we see that “oneg” too is related to wanting and having.

However, the mitzvah on Yom Tov is deemed simchas Yom Tov, whereas for Shabbos we speak of oneg Shabbos.
Simchah has codified requirements: for men, meat (some rishonim say that deOraisa it’s only the meat of the shelamim sacrice, but all agree that including derabbanan, it also calls for meat in general) and wine, for women, new clothing and jewelry, for children, sweets. The two differ.

Perhaps we can explain this in light of my previous entry which suggested that

… I think ben Zoma’s notion of my lot in life is the path Hashem placed before me to travel. Not where I stand now physically, socially, psychologically or spiritually. Not even where G-d is leading me. My lot is the trip along the way. The whole roller coaster ride, the peaks and the dips. … The job for which G-d created me as I am, when I live and where I live, with the people I know, the responsibilities I face, and the challenges He throws at me, solely because this is something His great plan required that required his having a Micha Berger to do it.

But in light of an Avodah discussion, I noticed that my notion also implies a possible distinction between simchah and oneg. The Tanya defines oneg as the satisfaction of a desire, the achievement of something one willed to accomplish. If simchah is satisfaction with one’s general life as a process, oneg is enjoyment of where I stand at the current point.

Rabbi Nachman Cohen, my principal as a Junior in High School, once defined Shabbos for us as “Shabbos is the island in time which is the eternal present.” Taking a break in the process to assess where one is going. Thus the greater cessation from melakhah, creative activities on Shabbos than on Yom Tov. (And even greater on Yom Kippur, where stopping to assess is even more critical.) It makes no sense to hurry up the ladder to get to the top of the wall only to afterwards realize the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall! Someone who looks back on their life with regret that they traded their role as parent to be a “success” at their career simply never kept Shabbos. And they never found oneg. Enjoyment of the accomplishments of the moment. Pausing.

All of this would imply that simchah requires more indoctrination than oneg. It is easier to take joy in what’s before you than in the more abstract concept of the path your life takes — including both triumphs and challenges. This would justify why halakhah defines exercises with which to express / internalize simchas Yom Tov in a way that it does not for Shabbos.

Perhaps this too can be explained in light of a point R’ JB Soloveitchik draws from Qabbalah. In Qabbalah there are two concepts: is’arusa delesata — the awakening [of holiness] from below, and is’arusa dele’eilah — the awakening from above. Shabbos happens every 7th day, G-d set it in motion, He is reaching down to us. It is is’arusa del’eila. Yamim Tovim depend on beis din setting the months. Thus, they are is’arusa delesata, from us up to Hashem. This is why the berakhah in the Amidah for Yom Tov is meqadeish Yisrael vehazmanim – who Sanctifies Israel and the [special] times”. The times’ holiness comes from Israel’s. For Shabbos, we simply say “meqadeish haShabbos“, no dependency on Israel.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this idea using the metaphor of visiting. On Shabbos, we come to visit the A-lmighty. Is’arusa dele’eila — He invites us. On Yom Tov, we invite Hashem to join us. Shabbos involves oneg because when you’re the guest, the Host provides things as per your desires. When you are the host, things are patterned around the Guest’s instructions — the more structured simchah.

I think this ties in. On Shabbos, Hashem invites us to take time to be “in the moment” to check the ladder rather than climb it. Thus, the mitzvah is oneg, happiness with the moment, and the more tangible kind of enjoyment. We are His guests, enjoying what He provides us. Thus, “sheishes yamim ta’avod — strive for six days”, and then take the time for oneg — to acknowledge what needs were satisfied. On Yom Tov, the focus is on His “happiness” (so to speak), and thus is about our role in His greater plan. It’s simchah.

The Five Hardest Words

At Mussar Kallah V, R’ Ephraim Becker said something that really resonated with me.

Of all the phrases in English that one could say — and mean what one says — which five words are hardest?

R’ Becker offered the sentences: “I’m fine. How are you?”

To say “I’m fine” and really mean it, one must have bitachon, belief that the A-lmighty is in control, and therefore that everything that happens in one’s life happens for a good purpose.

Whenever things are going well, R’ Becker said, a strange bird called a “Yeahbut” flies into the room. My wife made me a special dinner? The Yeahbut flies in, “Yeahbut usually I get home well after dinner time, and need to reheat a cold meal.” There is always some reason why the good isn’t perfect. Even the perfect vacation must end. The yacht one always dreamed of is great until someone you know comes by with a bigger yacht.

The only way to be truly content, to be “happy with what one’s lot”, is if one has bitachon. This imbues what we have with purpose, and what we don’t have — we also know that too is for a good reason. See this thought for Shabbas Nachamu for more on the connection between spirituality and happiness.

To really ask “How are you?” you have to care about the answer, and really want to know how the other person is.

Therefore, “I’m fine. How are you?” can only really be said by someone with a strong and healthy relationship with his Creator and with other people.

Five words that contain the core of the entire Torah…

Yahrzeit and Simchah

This Shabbos is the first yahrzeit of the children
Aryeh Lev ben Avraham, a”h
Noach Simcha ben Avraham, a”h
Adira Emunah bat Avraham, a”h
Natan Yekutiel ben Avraham, a”h
You may recall the story; four children, were killed when a fire struck their home in Teaneck. Firemen were at the home a mere four hours before, but declared the house safe without ever taking a thermal camera out of the truck.
Ari Seidenfeld, the oldest niftar at age 15, went to high school with my son, and in fact had invited him for Shabbos a short while earlier. The other niftarim were Noah 6, Adira 5, and Natan, a pre-kindergardener with Downs. Another sister called my home the next day from her hospital bed. How do you help your child know what to say to someone who just lost four siblings and at the time didn’t know if her mother would live? I am the “grown-up”, and I had absolutely no idea…

Their mother has asked that people dedicate some of their learning this Shabbos in their memory.

I would add that we should add some more learning as thanks to HQBH for sparing us from such things. Every day that all those many many little things that combine to keep us safe that any one could go wrong ch”v but don’t is an amazing berakhah.

On a related subject, recently Jay Lapidus, a lurker on Avodah and an e-friend to many Jewish list participants, lost his 15 yr old son. (A google search not only found Jay’s blog, Zichron Avi, and Avi’s HS, but numerous software shops, his “davening buddy” and other teens who miss him.) Avi died of acute onset diabetes. Note the word “onset”. This was not a child with a history of diabetes, or any reason to believe his fate would be any different than that of most teenagers. One moment everything is okay, and then keheref ayin — as with the blink of an eye…

And a few days later, I got a scary letter from the local tax department. BH we quickly identified and addresses the error… But at the moment that my wife and I thought we owed the state a 5 digit sum of money we didn’t own, I said to her, “Well, it’s only money. It’s not like we lost our 15 year…” Sentence never finished. I had just realized that our daughter Kayli would have been 15 now. We did in fact lose someone who would have been our 15 year old. Funny how easy it is to simply slip into life as usual.

In fact, that “everything can change in a moment” stuck my father sheyichyeh too. That night he went to bed. Life went on as usual. A couple of hours after going to sleep, the phone rings, my father heard the first words out of my mouth… before I even got to the point, just hearing my tone of voice… and he knew that his entire world had turned over. Keheref ayin.

This is Adar, a time of simchah. This entry is inappropriate (aside from being a break from my usual tone), and yet I feel compelled to share what’s on my mind. So let me conclude more on note for the season.

Hashem’s willingness to show His Mercy exceeds His other traits (as we see them). If this is how tragedy can strike, four children alive, vibrant, playing, one day, gone the next, picture what we mean by “Yeshu’as Hashem keheref ayin — the salvation of G-d will be like the blink of an eye!”

And simchah… What is simchah? “Eizhu ashir? Hasamei’ach bechelqo — Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot.” But too often we take life as usual for granted. Everything goes on. So much of that cheileq “just works”, despite the fact that our lives are far more complex than those programs I write that always have some known bugs. Bechemlah — with Divine compassion as we say in Modeh Ani. Truly, rabba emunasekha! Hashem is both ne’eman, reliable, and has emunah, faith in us.

So yes, certainly, learn in memory those who died too young. And then, learn some more in gratitude for all those many more who didn’t. That tragedies like theirs are the very rare exception, and how blessed is “life as usual”.

Idealism

Judaism has numerous words for particular ideals; there is the tzadik, the chasid, the ba’al teshuvah, etc… But does it have a word for idealism itself – for the inherent value of a burning desire to pursue an ideal?

This question is quite important. If there is no word for idealism in lashon hakodesh, neither in biblical Hebrew nor rabbinic idiom, how can we argue that Judaism has such a value?

I think we can identify such a term. And our story starts with R’ Saadia Gaon’s analysis of laughter.

A

It happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were walking along the road and heard the sound of the Roman masses from Pelitus, one hundred and twenty mil away. They began crying, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.

They asked him, “Why do you laugh?” He said to them, “And you, why do you cry?”

They said to him, “These pagans, who bow to images and bring offerings to idolatry, dwell in security and tranquility, whereas we — the house [that is] the footstool of our God has been burned by fire. Shall we not cry?”

He said to them, “It is for that reason that I laugh. If this is how it is for those who violate His will, then all the more so for those who perform His will!

One time, they were ascending to Jerusalem. When they reached Har HaTzofim [the first point from which one can see the Temple Mount] they rent their garments. When they reached the Har HaBayis, they saw a fox leaving the [site of] the qodesh ha-qodashim [the innermost sanctum of the Temple]. They began crying, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.

They said to him, “Why do you laugh?” He responded, “Why do you cry?”

They said to him, “The site about which it is written: ‘The foreigner who approaches shall be put to death’ (Bamidbar 1) — now foxes walk there, and we shall not cry?”

He said to them, “Therefore I laugh. For it is written, ‘I called upon reliable witnesses — Uriyah the Kohen, and Zechariah ben Yevarecheihu’ (Yishayahu 8:2). What does Uriyah have to do with
Zechariah — Uriyah [lived] during the First Temple [period], whereas Zechariah [lived] during the Second Temple [era]! Rather, the verse hinges the prophecy of Zechariah on the prophecy of Uriyah. In [a prophecy of] Uriyah it is written, ‘Therefore, because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field,’ (Mikhah 3) and in [a prophecy of] Zechariah it is written, ‘There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Jerusalem.’ (Zechariah 7) So long as Uriyah’s prophecy was unfulfilled, I feared lest Zechariah’s prophecy will not be fulfilled. Now that Uriyah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah’s prophecy will be fulfilled.”

They said to him: “Akiva, you have consoled us; Akiva, you have consoled us.”

- Makkos 24a-25b

When Rabbi Eliezer became ill, his students went to visit him. He said to them, “There is great anger in the world” [referring to Hashem's giving power to the Romans]. They started to cry, except Rabbi Akiva who laughed. They said to him, “Why do you laugh?” He answered them, “And why do you cry?” They said to him, “Is it possible that one sees the scroll of the Torah in pain, and we do not weep?”

He responded, “It is for that reason that I laughed. As long as I saw my rebbe, that his wine did not turn sour, his flax did not get smitten, his oil did not spoil, and honey did not crystallize, I could say that perhaps ch”v rebbe had received his world [now, not in the world-to-come]. But now that I see that rebbe suffers, I am happy.” [Rabbi Eliezer] said to [Rabbi Akiva], “Did I neglect any matter of the Torah [for which I now suffer]?” [Rabbi Akiva] said to him, “Our rebbe, you taught us, ‘For there is no righteous man on earth who does good without sinning.’ (Koheles 7:20)”

-Sanhedrin 101a

There are three famous stories associated with the fall of the Temple in which R’ Akiva laughs: upon hearing Romans on the attack miles away, upon seeing foxes running in and out amongst the ruins on the Temple Mount, and when he witnessed R’ Eliezer’s martyrdom. And in all three cases the Sages ask why, how can he cry at such an apparently inappropriate time?

R’ Saadia Gaon defines laughter as the reaction people have to a sudden realization of an underlying truth. (It took me a while to craft that statement, even so, you may need to reread it once or twice.) Interestingly, Robert Lynch, an anthropologist recently studying the topic of humor by experimenting as a stand-up comic, reached a similar conclusion:

He recently conducted an experiment that proves this. He had volunteers listen to an edgy, stand-up comic named Bill Burr.

“He has a joke about why men make more money than women for doing the exact some job,” Lynch says. “The punchline is, ‘I’ll tell you why. In the unlikely case we are both on the Titanic and it starts to sink, you get to leave with the kids and I get to stay. So call it a dollar-an-hour surcharge.'”

Lynch also gave the volunteers a psychological test that measured their unconscious gender attitudes. What he found was that volunteers with traditional gender views — people who believed women ought to stay home, rather than go to work — laughed harder at that joke than volunteers with more progressive views.

“People’s implicit beliefs, unconscious beliefs and preferences, matched what they found funny,” Lynch says.

A joke, in other words, is like a little brain scan: When we laugh, we reveal what’s inside us.

Lynch thinks evolution may have hardwired a sense of humor into our species because laughter serves as a signal. When you and I laugh at the same joke, we signal to each other that we share the same values, the same beliefs. This may be why people all over the world want friends and romantic partners who share their sense of humor.

In another experiment, Lynch sought to understand the connection between laughter and the psychological trait of self-deception.

Self-deceivers are people who don’t see their own values, motives and beliefs clearly.

“I simply gave people a self-deception test and measured their facial expressions in response to a stand-up comedian,” he says. “And there was a very strong association between the two.”

Self-deceivers were less likely to laugh.

It made sense to Lynch: You laugh when a joke resonates with your inner values and beliefs. If you’re out of touch with your own values and beliefs — as self-deceivers are — you’re less likely to find jokes funny.

– NPR: “An Anthropologist Walks Into A Bar…” by Shankar Vedantam, 6 Aug 2012

Humor is a sudden realization of truth, and so, when R’ Akiva suddenly saw a truth, he laughed.

R’ Saadia adds that “simchah” is the kind of happiness associated with laughter.

According to R’ SR Hirsch’s usual etymological rules (see also R’ Matisyahu Clark’s “Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew”), /s-m-ch/ would be a more intensive/active form of /s-m-h/. The latter, R’ Hirsch tells us, is the root from which we get “sheim” (to name). Understanding something is underlying reality does fit that relationship to naming it.

The mishnah tells us, “Eizehu ashir? Hasamei’ach bichelko.” (Who is wealthy? One who is samei’ach with his lot.) The ashir is happy with what he has because he knows why he has what he does, and why he doesn’t have what he doesn’t. He understands why this lot is distinctly his.

R’ Saadia Gaon continues by explaining that “yesharim” (straight ones) are those who see through to this inner truth, who head straight for it without taking detours or compromises. Which is why “Or zaru’ah latzadik, ulyishrei leiv simchah.” (A light is sown for the righteous, and simchah for the yesharim of heart.) mitzvos are the means: “Pekudei Hashem yesharim, misamchei leiv…” (The appointments of Hashem are yesharim, they bring simchah to the heart.) The yashar sees mitzvos as pekudim, appointments. Calling him to a higher role.

So I would like to suggest “yashar” as the term for idealism. R’ Saadia’s description seems to fit someone who goes straight for the fundamental truths, ideals, without compromising with “the needs of living in ‘the real world'”.

Ivdu es Hashem besimchah” (Serve Hashem in simchah) is to serve Him while keeping the ideal in focus. The person who is oveid besimchah is yashar. However, the person who is still struggling toward that ideal and isn’t there yet is also an idealist and also yashar – someone who is heading straight toward the goal. Being besimchah means having the ideal in sight. Being yashar means working toward that ideal – whether or not you have it fully in sight yet.

B

For three of the four occurrences of the alef-beis in megillas Eichah, the acrostics in chapters 2 through 4, the letter pei precedes ayin. Why?

Chazal relate this to the first calamity of Tish’a B’av, the meraglim (the spies sent by the exodus generation to Israel). They put their peh before their einayim, their mouths before their eyes. But the meraglim didn’t lie; they did describe what they actually saw. There really were giants and strong walled cities and abnormally huge fruit, etc…

What they lacked was simchah – knowledge of the underlying truth. Without that the meraglim reconstructed the evidence and reached a conclusion totally opposite from reality. They saw, but they were blind.

The Sifri writes (as quoted in Rashi on parashas Matos 30:2) that Moshe Rabbeinu alone was able to say “Zeh hadavar” (this is the idea), other prophets only had “Koh amar Hashem” (“like this”, not “this”, G-d said). Prophecy only comes when the person is besimchah; the ability to see “koh” is from a position of simchah.

Which brings us to parashas Devarim and megillas Eichah’s cry “Eichah?” (How can it be?) which the gemara relates back to G-d’s call to Adam, “Ayekoh?” (Where are you?) Hashem didn’t ask Adam for his only for his location, but also “Where is your ‘koh‘, your ‘like this’, the ideal you pursue? Without “zeh divar Hashem“, without even “koh amar Hashem” there can be no ish yashar. Only the eichah of those who refuse to see. The pei preceeds the ayin. The sin of the meraglim survived down to the generation of Yirmiyahu. Which is why Chazal worn us “when Av arrives, we reduce in simchah“. The events confuse us, it’s hard to feel G-d’s presence, and so the Shechinah too is in exile.

C

Venomar lifanav shir chadash al ge’ulaseinu vi’al pedus nafsheinu“. (And we will say before Him a new song, on our freedom and the redemption of our souls. Passover Haggadah)

Who says Hallel? Hallel is reserved for the revealed, the obvious, miracle. The daily hidden miracle doesn’t get Hallel – aren’t even allowed to get Hallel. One who says Hallel every day is a labeled a heretic. (Shabbos 118b) Hallel is said besimchah, when one can clearly see the fundamental truth. As it says in Tehillim, and included in Shacharis for Shabbos and Yom Tov, “Ranenu tzadikim Bashem, layesharim navah sehillah.” (Tzaddikim rejoice in G-d, for yesharim, tehillah” – from the same /h-l-l/ root as hallel – “is pleasant.” Which is then elaborated in Nusach Ashkenaz, “Befi yesharim tis-hallal…

Rashi on Taanis 15a comments that a yashar is on a higher plane than a tzadik. And the Netziv notes that Chazal call the book of Bereishis “Seifer haYesharim“. The value of pursuing the ideal is a core message of an entire book of the Torah! Our forefathers are praised as being yashar in particular. Which brings a totally new meaning to Hashem’s statement to Avraham: “because [only] from Yitzchak” – who is named for laugher! – “shall be called your offspring be called yours” (Bereishis 21:12).

D

This progression, from the “zeh hadavar” of parashas Matos to the “Eichah?” of Devarim and Tisha’ Be’av, leads us to this weekend – Tu Be’av and Shabbos Nachamu.

The haftorah opens “‘Nachamu nachamu ami’, yomar E-lokeichem.” (‘Be comforted, be comforted, My people’, your G-d will say. Yeshaiah 40:1) Nechamah is being reconciled with something that had happened because one understands it had a purpose. It is a part of “samei’ach bechelko“, understanding that there is a point to what one doesn’t have. Returning from the bewilderment of suffering and being able to look back upon it in context.

The navi goes on a bit later (40:3) to say, “A voice calls, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of Hashem; in the aravah, the desert, make yashar the path to our G-d.'” To take that nechamah, and use that regained understanding as motivation to be yashar in our avodas Hashem.

Mesechtes Ta’nis ends with a quote from R’ Shim’on ben Gamliel, that there are no holidays in the Jewish calendar greater than Yom Kippur and Tu Be’Av. Note that one is a return to Hashem from something we did, the other returning to Him after the incomprehensibility of what He did.

On Tu Be’Av, when we recover simchah after the Three Weeks, was when women tried to find a husband. And each told their prospectives not to put the peh before the ayin but to look for the woman’s real qualities. “Charisma is a lie, and beauty is vain, a woman who has awe for G-d – she shall be praised (tis-halal).” (Mishlei 31:30) “Give her of the fruits of her labors; and they, the things she makes, will praise here – viyhaleluha, again the notion of hallel! – in the gates.” (ibid 31) “Go out and see, daughters of Tzion, the king Shelomo in his crown which his mother crowned him, on the day of his wedding; on the day of the simchah of his heart.” The Talmud asks, “What is the day of the simchah of his heart? The day the Beis Hamikdash was built.”

Be comforted, everything we have been through and are still going through is so that that day can again come!

Yiyasheir kochachem!