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THE ART OF LIVING
This Tuesday, I was asked by my family to speak at the Shloshim of my cousin’s son. Yaakov Yisrael Farhi, A”H, was run over by a car, and after his body had fought for months to stay alive, he passed away 30 days ago. The parents, my cousin Refael and his wife Tamar, had so much faith that he would survive. Now that Yaakov has passed away, his parents are still standing strong in their faith. Anyone who gets to know these amazing parents, is instantly zapped with a super-strong dose of Emunah, acceptance, and hope. They are truly an inspiration to the world, how they stay strong, maybe even stronger than before.
Although lately I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking, putting together this speech was definitely a great challenge. Before putting together any speech, I always ask myself, what is the purpose of the speech, what is the goal? To inspire? Educate? Inform? Entertain? Persuade and convince? Here, none of the above would be appropriate.
Words can never do justice to expressing, to conveying any message that has anything to do with consolation for a tragedy of that magnitude. A month ago, I cried at the funeral like I have never cried before in my life. I hope I never have to cry like that again. Baruch Hashem, after I spoke, people said the ideas communicated went over well. Here was one of the ideas mentioned:
One concept of self-help is to reframe, to change perspectives, and many times, the way to do that is to redefine terms. Your terminology is a big part of your psychology. Speed, distance divided by time. A straight line, the shortest way between two dots. What does success mean? What does wealth mean? Love? Happiness? Wisdom? Orthodox? Praying? Parenting?
What does the word חיים, life, mean? Does being alive mean to exist, to survive, move, breathe, eat, work, and sleep? To escape from suffering, go to the bathroom, or go to the beach? People go on scary rollercoasters, jump off of planes parachuting, etc., and pay money to feel their heart pumping as if it is about to burst… For what purpose? To feel that they are not dead. Because people feel dead. By almost dying, they feel, for a moment, that they are still alive. But what does it mean, to actually feel alive, not only to not feel dead?
According to the Torah to be alive means to be present. To be connected with your surroundings. To respond correctly to adversity. To grow in character development. To rise above challenge. To live where you can be the best you. To give. To learn Torah. To learn life lessons.
Where did I get these Jewish definitions of “Life” from?
In Avot D’ R’ Natan, 1;34, it states: there are ten that are called חיים, alive: G-d, Torah, Yisrael, Tzaddik, Gan Eden, Tree of life, Eretz Yisrael, Kindness, Wise, Water that is coming out of Jerusalem.
What does all this mean? G-d does not breathe; He causes us to breathe. But His being alive, is His being present, in that He is aware, He cares, and He leads the world. מלך from the root מוליך. Torah is not alive, but it is life itself, in that it is the blueprint and structure of this world. A Yisrael is alive, because life is about rising above nature and becoming G-dly. A tzaddik is alive, because he lives with a greater meaning, and everything he does is in accordance with what G-d wants. Gan Eden is alive, because it is the closest connection to the Source of life. The Tree of Life is alive, because it is the deeper meaning of Torah. Eretz Yisrael is referred to as life, because it is the place where we can be who we are supposed to be, and people feel alive when they feel like they belong. Hessed is life, because giving is life, taking is death. Wisdom, learning from life lessons, and the pursuit of knowledge, is life. Water from Jerusalem is life, because a resurrected Jerusalem, where G-d feels at home with His people, is life. The water coming out of Jerusalem, is symbolic of happiness, as we see on Simhat Bet Hashoeva, and happiness is life.
There are some more meanings to life, according to Judaism. Our Rabbis teach, Nedarim 64b, that there are four that are considered like they are dead. A rich man who loses his wealth, because life means “choice”, and when a person loses money, he has lost his choices. A blind man, because life means “enjoying the blessings G-d gives you”, and pleasure can only be perceived through sight. Also, because life means, to feel other people empathetically, which a blind man can’t do. A childless man is considered dead, because life means sharing, giving, and no one can receive like a child can receive from his father. The fourth is the leper. The leper is considered lifeless, because he needs to be alone, and life means sharing in experiences and emotions.
The first thing for a “life coach” to explain, before explaining what “coaching” is and what it can do for you, is to explain what “life” is. When you can understand what life is, you can understand where you are and where you want to be. The life coach then, puts you in the locus of control of your life, to choose your highest values and to express them. For some questions, short answers are better answers. Like, “Why is Mashiach not here yet?” The answer is because not enough people are asking the question. Still, there are questions, that the longer the answer, the better. The question of the meaning of life, is an important one, because that is the why, the motivation behind what we do and the reason we want to live.
Throughout history, there have been different meanings to life in the world, at large, which influenced every single aspect of every single person’s life. When G-d created the world, the purpose of life was,לעבדה ולשמרה to serve and protect, to make the world a better place. To care. Over the generations, it took on so many meanings, so many “isms”. Since 1942, the world’s view of the meaning of life is something philosophers call “absurdism”. “Stop trying to find a meaning. Just live.” This philosophy came into the world, right after so many sacrifices of WW2. 50,000,000 people, which was a result of misinterpretations of the meaning of life!! The hardest thing for parents to do in the world with the absurdism philosophy, and it only gets harder, is to raise children to care. Why should they? Caring, as a purpose, as a value, was way back in the days of Adam and Eve, when the purpose of life was לעבדה ולשמרה. To serve and protect. But now, why should I make my bed? Why should I pick up my clothes? LET ME JUST LIVE!!!
The Torah tells us what life is about. Messilat Yesharim, Orchot Tzaddikim, Hovot Halevovot, all explain what the meaning of life is. Life is for the purpose of responsibility, of growth, learning, connecting, being present, learning Torah and living by it. Bringing Mashiach and getting the world ready to accept G-d’s Kingdom. לתקן עולם במלכות ש-די.