THE POWER OF BEING PRESENT
According to Judaism, you do not need to do something, get something, or have something, to become happy. To be happy, according to Judaism, you need to undo things, like anger, jealousy, damaged pride or damaged relationships. To undo helplessness, hopelessness, doubt, all-or-nothing thinking, expectations or “should” thoughts. To stay in the present, give the present emotion a label, and live the moment’s emotion to its fullest.
There are only 51 days, twice a year, the “make it” or “break it” days—the 51 days from Pesach until Shavuoth, and the 51 days from Rosh Hodesh Elul until Simchat Torah. We pray, in Hallel, אָנָּ֣א יְ֭קֹוָק הוֹשִׁ֮יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א אָֽנָּ֥א יְ֝קֹוָ֗ק הַצְלִ֮יחָ֥ה נָּֽא. Please YKVK, Save us now. Please, YKVK, Make us successful, now. The word נא means now. But in the numerical meaning, it means 51. We ask that the 51 days make the effect they can, and bring us salvation and success. It is now, or never, as we sing when we dance with the Torah, שמחו נא שמחו נא בשמחת התורה. Rejoice now, rejoice now, with the happiness of the Torah!
The daughter of R Meir from Parmishlan became sick on Sukkot and deathly ill on Simhat Torah. During the Hakafot, R Meir behaved like his custom, to rejoice, dance and sing, with his whole heart. His students asked him what to do about his daughter, what advice he has to bring upon her G-d’s mercy and salvation.
R Meir entered his daughter’s room and noticed that she was breathing her last breaths. He looked up to Heaven and prayed the following words to G-d: Master of the World! You commanded me to blow Shofar on Rosh Hashana, so I blew Shofar on Rosh Hashana. You commanded me to fast on Yom Kippur, and I fasted on Yom Kippur. You commanded me to sit in the Sukkah over the holiday, and I sat in the Sukkah during Sukkot. You commanded me to rejoice, sing and dance, on Simhat Torah, and I did just that! And now, You made my daughter deathly ill. You commanded me to accept everything with happiness. חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה. A person is commanded to bless G-d for the bad things in life, just as he blesses for good. So, I am also accepting this with happiness. But, Master of the World, You commanded in Your Torah אין מערבין שמחה בשמחה A person is not allowed to mix one happiness with another. (A person is not allowed to get married on Hol Hamoed, as to be totally dedicated at heart to one mitzvah at a time).
Immediately, his daughter broke out into a sweat and cured.
This story has so many lessons in it. To me, the takeaway from the story is the power of being totally present. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. The law of אין מערבין שמחה בשמחה teaches us not to mix one happiness with another. The secret to happiness is to be living the moment to its fullest, one moment at a time. The secret to focusing during prayer is to be present with G-d. The secret to successful relationships is to be present with your loved ones. The secret to business success is to be present with the customers you serve. The secret to being a servant of G-d, and the secret of doing Mitzvoth properly, is single-mindedness, focus, and being present.
If someone rejoices, dances with his whole heart, during Simhat Torah, He is promised that his children will never leave G-d’s Torah, and they will always have a connection. (Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah, Moed Lekol Hai) Why? By dancing with the Torah, or this year, dancing in front of the Torah, you are dancing with G-d. Simhat Torah, Shemini Atzeret, is the only time of the year that G-d invites you to such a dance. Who would give up on such an opportunity?
A while back, I received a phone call from a special woman who was frantic that her father was dying. Flooded with emotions, she did not know what to do with herself or how to cope alone with a dying father. I asked her what her father would want from her if he could speak. She said he would want her to be next to him at his last moments on this Earth, just to be present. I asked her if she could do just that, and focus on the mitzvah of honoring her father. Until today, she can’t stop thanking me. Those were the most precious moments of her life. To watch as her father was passing, being present with him during his last moments on Earth, as he returned his soul to his Creator. The secret to רוגע, calmness, and being רגוע, calm, is living in the רגע, in the moment. Children are naturally happy because they live in the present. They do not worry about the future and don’t let the past disturb the present’s fun. As Dale Carnegie taught, all stress is either crying over spilled milk or worrying about how you will cross the bridge when you get there. In the present, everything is fine. Dale, though, was preceded by Ibn Ezra. העבר אין והעתיד עדיין וההווה כהרף עין דאגה מנין. The past is gone, and the future is not yet, and the present passes like the blink of an eye. So why worry?
תַּ֗חַת אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹא־עָבַ֙דְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹק֔יךָ בְּשִׂמְחָ֖ה וּבְט֣וּב לֵבָ֑ב מֵרֹ֖ב כֹּֽל. All the curses of the Torah, are because you did not serve YKVK your G-d with happiness and with a good heart, and with mostly all. What do those seemingly redundant last words, מרב כל, from mostly all, mean? The Sefer Haredim brings from the Arizal that we are to serve G-d out of happiness, happier than all the joy one might experience, even from attaining all the gold and precious stones in the world. When you have a mitzvah to do, you need to look at the opportunity to serve Him as a present from G-d, and such a gift is more significant than all the worldly pleasures, מרב כל. Rashi explains these words that G-d gives us so much goodness. How can we not be happy that G-d is asking us to do this Mitzvah? That is why happiness in the Mitzvah is not extra credit, but it is essential and elementary in mitzvah performance. Understanding how much you are blessed and how grateful you are is basic in serving Him.
We are in the craziest time of the century. And still, G-d wants us to serve Him out of happiness. וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ How? The word אך is the key. The numerical value of אך is 21. The air in Earth’s atmosphere is made up of 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. The amount of percentage of oxygen you need in the air to breathe is 21 percent. Not a drop higher and not slightly lower.
It’s easy to feel that G-d has no idea of what we are going through. But when you open up your Siddur, Tehillim, or Chumash, and pay attention to every word, every letter, He is with us in our difficult times, even at times we feel hopeless and helpless. When you are down, He is there with you, and when you are up, He is the One who brought you up. That is what He does, from Creation until the present, and no one does it like Him. He flips ladders, brings the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top. How so?
When Moshe blessed the tribe of Yosef, Moshe refers to G-d asשֹׁכְנִ֖י סְנֶ֑ה , the One who Dwells in the Thornbush. He was there for Yosef in those times, like no one else could be there with Yosef, and He will be there with you like no one else can be there for you. In Dikduk, this formality of the word Shochen, with a letter Yud at the end, שכני, is the way of saying that no one does this act as He does. Similar to the formality of the words we sing at the beginning of Hallel המגביהי, המשפילי, מקימי, להושיבי, מושיבי. G-d takes the people from the bottom and brings them to the top. Like no one else does. (See Malbim Tehillim, Bchor Shor on passuk)
When it is hard to smile, remember this. Remember that He is with you, dancing with you on Simhat Torah, as you rejoice over your relationship with Him. The words in Hallel זֶה־הַ֭יּוֹם עָשָׂ֣ה יְקֹוָ֑ק נָגִ֖ילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָ֣ה בֽוֹ mean just this. This is the day that G-d made; let us rejoice and be happy with Him. You can only rejoice with G-d when you recognize that He made the present as it is, and it is not just a stepping stone to tomorrow or a continuation of yesterday.