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THE POWER TO BE HAPPY
Rabbi Yosef Farhi
Built into Judaism is a life-long workshop that prepares us to become superhuman beings. From nursery to nursing home, Judaism teaches us patience and trains us to delay self-gratification. It teaches you to wait 6 hours between meat and milk, to avoid relationships with the other gender until you find your spouse. To hold off work until you learned something after morning prayers. Judaism teaches us that life is more important than the most important things, like keeping Shabbat, fasting on Yom Kippur, or attending synagogues.
Judaism teaches admittance on our High Holidays. On Rosh Hashana, Judaism teaches us Who is Boss, that we are powerless, that there is a Power that is greater than ourselves, and that the most extraordinary people are those who are most humble. On Yom Kippur, it teaches us to forgive, to forget, and let go. To make lists to all we harmed and to make amends. To admit to ourselves, G-d, and others, and fix broken relationships, no matter how broken they are, or how long.
Judaism teaches emotional intelligence on Sukkot. וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֖ בְּחַגֶּ֑ךָ…וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽח It challenges us to be happy, to rejoice, no matter what challenges us. Your emotions are your choice, to be aware and take control of how you feel, and to be resiliently happy. Happiness is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and 99% of happiness being ‘sold’ is fake happiness. Judaism teaches us the secrets to happiness twice a yearSukkot teaches that real happiness is not what you have, but what type of person you are and how you perceive your world.
There are three relationships in the world. Between Man and G-d, Man and others, Man and himself. All happiness and sadness emotions exist in between that space between those relationships. Happier people have better relationships, and sadder people have worse relationships. Judaism teaches that the key to happiness is to improve relationships. This is why both on Purim and Sukkot, the times we are to be happy and rejoice, the Mitzvoth of the day revolve around these three relationships. On Purim, we read Megillah, give Mishloah Manot, Matanot LaEvyonim, and enjoy a Purim feast. On Sukkot, we eat lavish meals in the Succah, sit with G-d, invite others, dance with them, and buy our loved ones present before the holiday. We realize how little we need to be happy, and how G-d does not ask a lot from us, to consider that we are doing a lot. Sitting in the Succah, shaking Lulav and Etrog, is equal to doing 613 Mitzvoth, each! (Rokeach; Piyut of R Klir)
If you rejoice during Succot, you will have the power to be happy all year long. Not including holidays, there are 348 days in the year. The Torah commands us to rejoice on Succot, and then והיית אך שמח. The word שמח is the numerical equivalent to 348 because if you are happy on Succot, you will obtain the power of happiness for the rest of the year. How so?
On Succot, we invite the Patriarchs and greatest men of our nation to sit with us in the Succah, and we reconnect with our rich heritage. With Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, the men who we refer to as “Yesharim.” Yesharim, “straight hearted,” is a key to happiness, as we say during Kol Nidrei before Shehehyanu of Yom Kippur, א֖וֹר זָרֻ֣עַ לַצַּדִּ֑יק וּֽלְיִשְׁרֵי־לֵ֥ב שִׂמְחָֽה: A light is sown for the righteous, and for the straightforward of heart, joy. (Tehillim 97;11) To be happy, you need to have a straightforward heart. What does that mean, a straightforward heart? We know that Bereshit’s book is referred to as Sefer Hayashar, for the Patriarchs were all straightforward. G-d, Himself, is referred to as א-ל אמונה ואין עול צדיק וישר הוא. G-d Himself is righteous and straightforward. What does it mean to be straightforward, and how does that bring about happiness?
The word ישר at its root is straightforwardness or seeing through with one thought from the beginning to the end, not diverting attention, losing focus. It is the power that our Forefathers used to become who they became and pass the tests they passed. At the age of three, Avraham realized that the world has a Creator, Who is continuously leading Nature. But it was not until the age of 40 that Avraham recognized G-d. What did Avraham do from 3 until 40?
From age 3 to 40, Avraham was going straight in thought, single-mindedly and mindful of His Creator. He first realized that there is a Creator, and did not stop there… “If there is a Creator, One who leads Nature and gives me all that I have… I can have a relationship with Him! I can pray to Him, and He will answer me! The way I can have a relationship is to learn from His ways, His kindness, and follow Him!” And from that clear thinking, Avraham became the kindest person ever to walk the face of the Earth. With the power of mindfulness and focused thought, Avraham was able to fathom the laws of the Torah and keep them. פִּקּ֮וּדֵ֤י יְקֹוָ֣ק יְ֭שָׁרִים מְשַׂמְּחֵי־לֵ֑ב. The orders of the L-rd are straightforward, causing the heart to rejoice. What does this mean?
A straightforward Jew does not stay the same Jew at 40 as he was at 3. In a straight direction, he progresses to the goal of connecting with his Creator, and Olam Haba. When a person has direction, when a person is progressing, this brings happiness. According to their strengths and virtues, each of our forefathers went straight, each in their unique way, to bring about G-dliness in this world. This is G-d’s way, to be Yashar, א-ל אמונה ואין עול צדיק וישר הוא. He does not stop, He keeps bringing the world closer to its purpose, and He keeps getting you closer to your purpose.
This mindfulness of straightforward thinking is the elementary step to humility. (Malbim) If you want to access humility, you need to keep focus. As Mordechai Shapiro sings in his new song, “You think you got it under control, you are on a roll, living it up, living your dreams. But when it all goes bust at the seams, then you scream and cry, to the One on high… He’s been there from the beginning when you felt like you were winning. He was calling all the shots; He gave you all that you’ve got. So when your low, just you know, He is up above and down below, so shout it out aloud… Ein Od Milvado!” It is so hard to keep thinking straight, when you are winning. You forget where you came from, and you follow all the people who are not straight, the people running after social status, wealth, fancy cars, vacations, brand names, honor, respect,and fame. But then you ask, Hey! I am not happy! My family is not happy! What is wrong?
This is the message of Succot, כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת. No matter where you are in life, how rich you are … get into a temporary Succah! Realize that G-d gave you another year just a few days ago, and He wants you to remember Who took you from zero to hero, and Who gave you a roof, A/C, and heat. He wants you to focus on the message of the Succah: this world is temporary, and a distraction to the straight line to the permanent world to come. When you reframe your life perspective in this way, you obtain happiness by default, as you are straight in line with your life’s purpose.
Selfie Steps to Happiness
- All unhappiness is a result of a lack. Lack of acceptance; hope; faith; courage; honesty; patience; humility; loving others; integrity; self-discipline or lack of serving your Creator. Realize what you are lacking, and fix that. G-d makes us happy creatures at the core, but we tend to confuse ourselves. עָשָׂ֧ה הָֽאֱלֹקים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם יָשָׁ֑ר וְהֵ֥מָּה בִקְשׁ֖וּ חִשְּׁבֹנ֥וֹת רַבִּֽים for God made man straight, but they sought many calculations. (Kohelet 7;29)
- Work on all three relationship types. When one of the three relationships are hurting for too long, it will reflect in one or both of the other two types.
- Want nothing more than simplicity. Stop the happiness trap of running after happiness. Instead, learn humility and acceptance, and learn to discover meaning in life and satisfaction in the small things.
- Pay attention to your strengths, and don’t focus on what you perceive as weakness. Try to remember and savor the good times and memories and look past the times and memories that make you suffer and disrupt your sense of calm. Adopt an optimistic look at life. Problems are not as permanent, pervasive, or personal as we tend to make them.
- Be kind to your family, friends, and neighbors. And most importantly, be kind to yourself.
- Stick to your life’s goals, the life you desire, and the self-actualization you aspire for.