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Parashat Hukat

Why did the Jews say Shira in the desert only on the Well of Water, and not on the Mannah? Because about the Mannah, they made tasteless remarks, “And now our souls are dry, there is nothing…”(Bamidbar 11) G-d said, “ I want neither your complaints nor your praise“. That is why G-d did not give them permission to say Shira. But on the Well, G-d allowed them to say Shira, because it was dear to them… (Shemot Rabba 7)

How sad. G-d brought them 40 years of Mannah, and no matter how much they would want to say Shira for Manna, G-d was not interested. To say Shira is a privilege. You need permission. If you complain, G-d is not interested in your Shira. You blew it by looking at the negative and complaining.

Saying Shira is not something we should take lightly. Shira is what keeps every element of the world in existence. It is the powerhouse of every creature. When Yehoshua stopped the sun from setting , he said, שֶׁ֚מֶשׁ בְּגִבְע֣וֹן דּ֔וֹם, Sun in Givon, silence! (Yehoshua 10) Why ‘silence’? Why not ‘stop’? Yehoshua commanded the sun to stop saying Shira. Without saying Shira, the sun is powerless, so it froze in its tracks (Chomat Anach (Chida) Tehillim 19).When you feel powerless, when you are not being you, it is because you are not singing Shirah.  Shirah is your battery. חביבין ישראל לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא יותר ממלאכי השרת, שישראל אומרים שירה – בכל שעה (Hullin 91b)

A person’s prayer is not heard unless it is in the Shul, as it says לִשְׁמֹ֤עַ אֶל־הָֽרִנָּה֙ וְאֶל־הַתְּפִלָּ֔ה, to hear the praise, and the prayer. Our Rabbis learn from this passuk, במקום רנה שם תהא תפילה, in the place of praise, that is where there should be prayer. Rashi explains that the Shul is special, for that is where the minyan says songs and praises, in a singing, sweet and calm voice (Berachot 6a). The power of prayer is strongest when it is associated with singing G-d’s praises.

Why don’t we say Shira, why don’t we feel like we are singing to G-d His praises when we are in shul?  What is stopping our hearts from singing?

Everything that you need to know in life, you were taught in kindergarten. To be a part of a group. To make sure you share your fun with others. To ask yourself, always, what you want to be when you grow up, no matter how old you are. To sing the song when relationships have gone sour, Let’s be friends. Make amends. Now’s the time to say I’m sorry.  And most importantly, to learn how to say thank you, even if things did not work out the way you expected. The simplest truisms in life are the most important ones, and, unfortunately, the most forgettable ones. The truths we were taught then keep coming back to us, to remind us what we keep forgetting. Like the lesson of Rick Hanson.

There is a recent study by UC Berkeley-based clinical psychologist Rick Hanson that will help you to “Reprogram your brain to be calm, content, and confident in 10 seconds”. It explains why so many people are miserable and how to experience more joy. Here it is, in a Torah-based version.

People have a tendency to pay attention to the negative rather than the positive. This is a response of the Nefesh, the animal-survival part of your soul that is hard wired to a “fight or flight” survival response. Survival depends upon immediately identifying and quickly reacting to life threats. According to Hanson, “there is a negativity bias that makes like Velcro for bad experiences, but like Teflon for good ones.Therefore, bad experiences tend to stick with us (because they seem IMPORTANT), while good experiences tend to be quickly forgotten. Over time, we tend to accumulate a long laundry list of easily-recalled bad experiences, which seem vivid and significant, while we tend to forget good experiences.

Hanson cites studies that good relationships require at least a 5-to-1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones. In other words, you’ll probably dislike your boss if he doesn’t praise you at least five times more than he criticizes you. Unfortunately, it’s the bad experience that sticks. The Nefesh is busy accumulating negative thoughts, experiences, and worries and sticking big, red, “THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!” flags on them.

Fortunately, you can tap into your Neshama and reprogram yourself to be happy, simply by taking 10 to 30 seconds to focus on how happy you feel when you’re experiencing a small pleasure. You instruct your brain to stick a “THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!” flag on the little things that make you happy. Over time, your brain becomes acclimatized to being happy. The happiest people are those who seem to be able to enjoy whatever is going on at the time, not those who have encountered the fewest difficulties in life. Without really knowing what they were doing, those people who seem “naturally happy” have actually been programming their brains to be that way.

If a person does not see the good in the bad, or if he does not trust G-d that there is a good reason for the bad in the good, then G-d does not want his Shira. Because Shira is recognizing how it was, is and will be all good. That G-d is always there in your life, opposite you. Anyone who says Shira in This World, will merit to say Shira in the Next World, as it says, אַ֭שְׁרֵי יוֹשְׁבֵ֣י בֵיתֶ֑ךָ ע֝֗וֹד יְֽהַלְל֥וּךָ סֶּֽלָה: Lucky are those who sit in Your House; they will continue to praise You, for eternity (Sanhedrin 91b). This is the connection of the next passuk we say אַשְׁרֵ֣י הָ֭עָם שֶׁכָּ֣כָה לּ֑וֹ אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הָ֝עָ֗ם שֶׁיֲקֹוָ֥ק אֱלֹהָֽיו: Fortunate is the nation for whom this is so, lucky is the nation that YHVH is His G-d(Elokim). The only way you can say Shira is if you can see that G-d’s mercy (YHVH) stands behind all the difficulties in life (Elokim).

In life, we have pain, and we have pleasure. There is no such thing as pain without pleasure. And there is no such thing as pleasure without pain. G-d gives pain and suffering only so that we can see through it to its purpose, and actually love it. חביבין יסורין (Berachot 5b). Shirah is not about thanking G-d for giving you a good life, as much as it is about being thankful to G-d that He used you as a vessel to bring awareness of His G-dliness into the world, that He is running the world at every moment, and He can change reality at any moment (Beit Halevi Beshalach; R Tzadok Sichot Malachei Hasharet 2).

We are here for a purpose, להתענג על ה’. To enjoy and appreciate the goodness that G-d gives us and to recognize that it is He who is giving us what we have. שפכי כמים לבך נכח פני ה’. Pour out your heart like water, opposite the Face of G-d. You can pour your heart like water, out of thankfulness and gratitude,  only if G-d is opposite you. That is the only way there is meaning in pain and suffering. שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד, I place G-d opposite me, always. Only if you are conscious of the fact that G-d is right there in front of you, always, can you praise G-d, because only then is it possible for pain to have a rhyme and reason.

This is the main goal in this world, to become a נכח פני ה’  Jew, a ה’ לנגדי תמיד  Jew.(End of Alei Shur 2)To be aware that G-d is right here in front of us, at all times, waiting for us to sing.

About the author, Yosef

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