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Happiness Hacks

Happiness Hacks

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Vicarious Resilience; A Personal Journey

Am I in the right place?  I have been asking myself tonight.
After all, tonight is Simchat Torah.
Tonight I should be in 770 dancing amongst the thousands of men and women. 

Thinking of it alone, makes beads of sweat run down my face, my heart pulsate and my legs cry out to me to dance.
Still I know how far I am from the vibe and the fervor.    

I should be a part of this.  I was last year and the years before that.
I should be with my friends holding on to one another round after round.
Every circle another melody, every circle another rhythm, every circle another meaning.

But you can't change reality, and reality leaves me to the quietness of a hospital room.  The silence itself can make a visitor ill.

I sit by Zaidy's bedside, oh how I wish we could talk.
But Zaidy's tired.  Still there is so much I wish to ask:  Simchat Torah in his shtetel, did they dance in the streets?  Simchat Torah in the camps, was there any kind of commemoration?  

Suddenly Zaidy turns to my side. 
He confirms tonight is Simchat Torah, and in a low hoarse voice he begins a story.

The war was over. We had been liberated by the Red Army.
But I had no family and nowhere to go.
I felt as if the group of Jews I was with, were the only Jews left in Europe.
We walked around like zombies, trying to find word from family and friends.  But the more news that came, the worse the news got.

The first time I would be back in a Shul would be Simchat Torah.
With barely a minyan inside, the chazzan gave a davening like you can't imagine.  Even before the war I had never heard anything like it.

As the Chazzan's voice echoed in the room, I told myself, after all this pain and suffering and still there is a Jew who can pray to G-d with such love, fear, and compassion.  There must be many other small groups of Jews all over Europe davening just like us.

That moment I knew there was still hope.

Zaidy ends his story by saying ‘And that's why Simchat Torah is so dear to me.’

After hearing his story, my recurring question found its answer.
I was in the right place. I was spending my Yom Tov in the Holy of Holies. 

I drank the words of Zaidy's story, and got drunk on its lesson.  I danced the tune of Zaidy's courage.  I carried the Torah, Zaidy's Torah of hope. 

My grandfather and his family were taken to Auschwitz Passover night.   He was the only survivor.  How could he have ever celebrated a holiday again?
My grandfather’s flame was rekindled on that Simchat Torah night.  Never did he not celebrate a holiday to its fullest.

***

One of the most controversial subjects in academic research on the Holocaust is the trauma's impact on future generations. A new study carried out by Haifa University argues that Holocaust trauma signs can be identified among third-generation grandchildren.

Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.

There are many more studies being done on generational transference of Holocaust trauma. The research is fascinating.  I am far from an expert in this field, so I will not dwell on this topic.  But I know we are going to be hearing and talking a lot about this in the years to come.

For Velly article.jpg 

***

On Friday night, September 16, 2006 – I was a 21 years old post Yeshiva student, walking the streets of my home town Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

I passed a group of 7-8 African American teenagers and thought nothing of it.

Pop. I suddenly felt the most unusual sensation to the right side of my face and I was utterly confused.
I put my hand to my face and saw my hand was covered in blood, and blood was streaking down, now turning my entire white shirt red.

I was no longer able to see from my right eye.

I than felt four hands on my shoulders wrestle me down.
Lying on my back I began kicking those four fists that were now extending towards me.
I know I was shouting but I cannot remember what. 

My attackers then fled, one of them was holding a metal baseball bat.
I had been struck with the bat once across the right side of my face.
I instantly suffered 5 fractures to my face, including a fractured orbital.

I would spend a while in the hospital and needed reconstructive face surgery. 
A quarter of my face is now titanium. (And no, I don’t beep when I go through metal detectors.)

I was home from the hospital.  The police started an investigation, but nobody was caught or punished.  I wanted to move on in life, but I was upset, dejected, and angry.  Very angry. I had plans to travel to South Africa to study for my Rabbinical degree.  But my energy was depleted and my heart was not into it.  I felt like I was sinking.

One late night, a picture in my room caught my eye.
It was a photo of my grandfather and me at my Bar Mitzvah.
My grandfather has his hand on my shoulder.  His normally deep and moist eyes are radiant.  He looks immensely proud.

I was transported back to the night my grandfather shared with me his Simchat Torah story.

I once again listened to that memory he shared.  In my mind I witnessed the destruction and his renewal.

I put the picture back on the shelf and I felt the possibility of transcending my current state and working through my pain.  My grandfather’s lesson on resilience taught me to see my trauma as a set back and to attempt to reach a higher place.  I no longer saw myself as a victim and I never looked back.

*** 

My choice to become a Rabbi was influenced by my Zaidy. Because of him, I am trying to continue to teach and inspire the Jewish generations. When I pray on a Shabbat morning, I can hear my Zaidy’s sweet and calm voice from when he used to lead the prayers and it gives lift to my Davening. 

When I celebrate in my own Sukkah, I remember Zaidy sitting in his and singing his favorite Yom Tov song “Atah B’chartanu – You have chosen us from among all the nations; You have loved us and found favor with us….“ During the Pesach Seder, I am always transported back to my family Seder of old.  My grandfather’s unique tune for the Haggadah makes one feel absolutely free.

Today, I try to imagine explaining generational transference of Holocaust trauma to my grandfather.

He would most probably look at me, shake his head and say something like “Nunu”.

I try to imagine explaining to him generational transference of Holocaust resilience, and I see him once again put his hand over my shoulder, his eyes radiant and proud.

I argue, if we are inheriting trauma, the flip side is an inheritance of resilience.  The trauma comes automatically.  But resilience needs to be worked on and developed. To be witnesses for the survivors is to constantly see their story and see how they relate to our lives today.

My grandfather, Reb Chaim Tzvi Moskovitz OBM, despite his Holocaust trauma, personified faith, goodness and kindness, study and acceptance of all. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and try to follow in his ways.  His legacy of resilience is a gift I cherish.

I believe that we must study our surviving grandparents’ stories and actively integrate those stories into our lives to strengthen our resilience and help us overcome obstacles.  To grow from our experiences and to become better from our hardships.    

Tell me, is there a better gift that we can give them?

Love vs Respect

Every time a person imposes their self upon others, unhappiness follows. It is an attempt to control the uncontrollable and the result is emotional stress and tension.

Often we have this vision of how other people are meant to be.  Actually the closer they are to us, the surer we are that we know how they should be behaving.  But this is an investment of emotional energy that does not pay off.

The emotion of love drives empathy and concern.  Love is to give.  In Hebrew, love is אהבה whose root is הב, which means to give.  But sometimes, giving when not asked for or not needed is invasive, such as an unwanted opinion. 

Respect, on the other hand, is withholding.  Respect enables us to take a step back and give others the space they need to operate independently, to make their own decisions and walk their own path. For example, respecting another’s opinion even if we don’t agree with it.  Respect is appreciating another’s unique personality and character traits that sets them apart from you.

Love is me going out of my way for you.
Respect is me getting out of my way for you.
Love is something we fall into.
Respect is something we climb into.
Love is me doing what you would like to be done.
Respect is me refraining from doing what you would not like to be done.

Nurturing Respect Exercise

· Identify one relationship in your life, be it family, friendships or workplace, where you can incorporate more respect.

· Reflect on that person’s distinctiveness and strengths and how it can complement you, for at the end of the day, respect is rooted in the sober reality that people are so different from each other and can thus complement each other.

· Think of some practical ways to respect this person’s boundaries. i.e Respecting his or her opinions.  Not trying to control that person. Not judging their actions. Holding back from having disrespectful thoughts of this person.

The key to healthy relationships and interactions, one that avoids disappointment and stress, is to find the proper balance between love and respect.  Because untempered love is smothering and invasive, while untempered respect is distant and uncaring.

“If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.  But if I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you; and now we can talk.”
-The Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern

Purposeful Living

 

Being created in the Divine image comes with the deep responsibility and global mission to bring the world to a higher purpose; transforming the world to be an environment befitting for G-ds presence.

With every Mitzvah, positive action and good deed we do, fusing matter with spirit, we implement this Divine vision for the universe.

Each person contributes to this in a way that nobody else can.  Each person is unique, indispensable,  absolutely necessary and granted with special qualities and distinctive responsibilities to fulfil their purpose.

The fact that G-d put you here indicates that you are needed.  Birth is G-d saying “You matter.”

As Viktor Frankl so powerfully wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:  “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment.  Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.  Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement.”

The question then is where do I fit into this grandiose picture? What is this unique mission of mine?  Where do I find it?  And how do I accomplish it?

Mission Statement

Our internal qualities such as personality, convictions, interests and even weaknesses and vices, once disciplined and channelled, are all part of our distinctive purpose to refine ourselves and the world.

Also, our opportunities, the people we know, places we visit and the various experiences that come our way - although not inherent to our nature – are integral to our purpose in life.

  • Think about your own unique qualities.  Think about the various talents you were blessed with.
  • Now think of how these qualities and talents can be used to bring meaning to your surroundings.
  • Consider the opportunities that come your way i.e. your education, financial resources, position of influence etc.  Nothing is random; all life’s journeys are an opportunity.
  • Consider the people in your life.  People have strengths and weaknesses. Who can you help through troubled times?  Who can you learn from?
  • Finally, the journey of life at times takes us to unexpected places.  We become frustrated with detours and delays.    In truth, wherever we are, whether it’s a place we would like to be on not, we are there for a purpose: to do an act of kindness or to learn something new.  Our focus should shift to what that purpose might be.

 

The cumulative energy of these four factors – personality, opportunities, people and places carry the secret to our purpose in life.

The Forgiveness Challenge

 For a 2 minute audio click here 

Our lives are often cluttered with all kinds of destructive memories and resentments. And if our memories ‘archive’ every time someone slights us, life becomes unbearable.

In the Jewish calendar, the month of Tishrei is a built in annual opportunity to let go of wounds that hold one back, and to move forward toward becoming the person we ought to be.

In our Yom Kippur prayers, we ask G-d to not to hold grudges against us (“G-d, do not remember our former wrongdoings”). But, in exchange, He asks us to act towards others in the same way.

Forgiveness Exercise

Some events are extremely difficult to simply forgive. So start small.

• Identify a relatively minor grudge or resentment that you’ve been carrying around with you. Think about the incident and how it made you feel. To forgive, you need to first acknowledge the reality of what happened and how you were affected.

• Next, identify the cost of holding on to it. Does it cost you energy, vitality, self-esteem, intimacy?

• Then, as hard as it may seem, consider their perspective. You may never understand why they did what they did, but taking the time to see things through their eyes can take the edge off our hurt feelings. Ask yourself: How would they explain what happened? The point isn’t to condone their behavior; it’s to better understand it from their vantage-point.

•Finally, consider your own contribution to the situation – not for the purpose of self-blame, but to better appreciate the full picture behind what happened. Often, without realising or intending it, our actions can contribute to others actions. And when we understand this, it's easier to let go.

“Forgiveness is taking back your power. Forgiveness is taking responsibility of how you feel.  Forgiveness can improve your mental and physical health.   Forgiveness is becoming a hero instead of a victim.  Forgiveness is a choice.”
- Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good

The Forgiveness Journey

 For a 2 minute audio click here 

The Forgiveness Journey


In my previous post I described how by seeing forgiveness multi dimensionally, it allows for one to work on their feelings to be more ready to forgive.

I described how forgiveness is about restoring a relationship, being a spectrum and a process, and most importantly as being a possible exercise.

Allow me to elaborate.

1) Restoring a Relationship
The Hebrew word for forgiveness is Mechilah.  From the most basic perspective, mechilah means “I care enough about offender that I wish them no harm”.

Mechilah is not saying “I need to move on” or “it’s time to forget.”  That’s not forgiveness.   Those are reasons for forgiveness, but not the exercise of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a conscious decision to transform very negative feelings – negative enough that one might want the offender to suffer – to more positive feelings, at least to the extent that I desire the offender suffer no harm

2) Forgiveness is a Spectrum
Mechilah is not a one size fits all implementation. At one extreme there is no reconciliation.  Just no harm wished to offender. On other extreme, there is a wholehearted restoration of a relationship. It depends on the person.  It depends on the nature of the offense.

3) Forgiveness is a Process
The journey of forgiveness can mean that today I forgive on a most basic level and tomorrow I proceed further.  A wound heals slowly.  Take it gradually.  Each achievement within forgiveness opens new possibilities.

4) Forgiveness is Possible
Mechilah does not require you to become best friends over night, but ultimately the mechilah process is achievable.

The Forgiveness Spectrum

 For an under 2 minute audio click here 

In my previous post I wrote how forgiveness is a gift one gives to themselves, and the process of forgiveness drives away depression, stress and anger.  With forgiveness comes healing and self-confidence.  Our mental wellbeing requires that we practice the art of forgiveness.

But if one is hurt, how can they forgo their feelings to feel differently?  They may have been hurt in body, mind or heart. What if one is never ready or interested in forgiving? 

To answer this, we need a deeper understanding of forgiveness.

“There are multiple levels of forgiveness.  Among them:

1. The victim forgives in the sense that the victim desires that the offender should not suffer Divine punishment.  The victim might still harbour animosity toward the offender, but it has been mitigated to the extent that the victim desires that no harm befall the offender.

2. One forgives to the degree that one harbors no animosity toward the offender.  Moreover, the victim desires good for the offender.  Yet, the relationship between the two parties is not as it was before the offense.

3. The victim is completely appeased and therefore forgives wholeheartedly.  The relationship between offender and victim is exactly as it was before the offense.”

- The Lubavitcher Rebbe

Forgiveness is about restoring a relationship.  Forgiveness is a spectrum.  Forgiveness is a process.  Forgiveness is possible.

The Gift of Forgiveness

 For an under 2 minute audio click here

Many see forgiveness as a favour generously granted by an injured party to one who caused hurt or harm.

Fred Luskin, author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, argues based on extensive research, that forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself.

More than the offending party deserves forgiveness, you deserve to forgive.

The process of forgiveness is not a luxury, but a necessary experience that drives away depression, stress and anger that resulted from that specific negative experience.

As important as it is to remember, it is just as important to be able to forget.

Our lives are often cluttered with all kinds of destructive memories and resentments. And if our memories ‘archive’ every time someone slights us, life becomes unbearable.

With forgiveness comes healing and self-confidence.  Our mental wellbeing requires that we practice the art of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not a weakness.  Forgiveness is not denying or lessening the wrong that was done to us.  Rather, forgiveness is an effective process of self-empowerment that allows us to overcome the sense of helplessness that resulted from a negative experience.  It is letting go of some of the pain, and moving on to a better place.

In the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks “Forgiveness is the only way to live with the past without being held prisoner by the past”

Positive Jewish Parenting

 For an under 3 minute audio click here 

Just as parents are obligated to raise children who will become emotionally, morally and practically self-sufficient adults, Jewish parents have an added responsibility to raise children who are Jewishly self-sufficient.

G-d entrusted us with Jewish children.  The education they receive needs to nurture their unique Jewish individuality and soul.

The Jewishness of our children is central to their identity.  When we help them realise this special potential, we give them the greatest possible gift, the gift of being themselves. 

We need to give our children Judaism in a form that allows them to own it, one that encourages and enables them to become independently Jewish and proud practicing Jews.

But how do we accomplish this difficult feat? 

Our relationship with Judaism, studying Torah and keeping the Mitzvot certainly comes with challenges, and at the same time it is the greatest blessing.  Calling it the greatest blessing, is not being in denial, it’s about our choice of focus.

This choice is fateful, for it will have a tremendous impact on our children.  The way we view our Jewishness, is key to how (and whether) our children will embrace it.

Essential for Jewish continuity is a positive attitude about Judaism.  The ingredient that helps ensure that our children become self-sufficient Jewish adults is a healthy dose of Jewish pride and viewing Judaism, the Torah and Mitzvot, as the greatest possible gift.

“Many Jews believe that what unites us as a people today are memories of the Holocaust and fears of antisemitism.  The Rebbe taught the opposite message. What unites us is not that other people hate us, but that G-d loves us; that every one of us is a fragment of the Divine presence and together we are the physical presence of G-d on earth.  This message – spiritual, mystical as it is – is more powerful, noble and caring than the alternative.”
-Paraphrased from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, phD

In our daily morning prayers we declare “Fortunate are we! How good is our portion, how pleasant is our lot and how beautiful our heritage.”

It’s time we impart that message to our children 

The Humility Journey in the 21st century

 For a 2 minute audio click here 

When Nelson Mandela was once asked what he considered his greatest accomplishments, he snapped, “Such a question is very important and should be put in writing first… They are not my accomplishments… Everything I have done has to do with the ANC.  I do not make decisions alone.  When I decide to act, it is something that we discuss.  I think it is a mistake to think in terms of the Mandela years.  It is the era of the liberation forces.”

The Hebrew word for “I” (Ani אני) shares the same letters as the word nothing (Ayin אין). Chassidic philosophy explains that the relationship of these two words serves as a reminder that my “I” is “noting” i.e. I am nothing by myself.

This is a form of humility that stresses that no matter my talents, abilities and past achievements, I recognize that they are G-d given, and I assume that another person with these very gifts would accomplish much more than me.  This sense of humility is the awareness of the Divine being the source of my life and my accomplishments. 

The ability to check our ego by the door comes from a place of strength and self-confidence.  This can be remarkably beneficial in business, relationships and wellbeing.  As Rambam warned, arrogance and inflated ego are the main obstacles to happiness. On the other hand, deflating our ego, allows for Divine inspiration, wisdom and joy that results from helping others.

Maybe this is why Golda Meir once humorously remarked “Don’t be humble; you’re not that great.”

We can never fully let go of our petty ego.  What’s beautiful about this sense of humility is that it’s about the process and the journey.  Humility is not a thing we cross off our checklist.  Humility is a character trait that we must constantly develop.

Humility is not false modesty.  On the contrary, when you are humble, you are clear about who you are and what your unique qualities are.  You don’t let people trample on you and you are still a force to be reckoned with. You are just not egocentric. 

The Joy of Purpose

For a 2 minute audio click here 

A certain Jewish leader had a private meeting scheduled with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  Leading up to the meeting, the individual’s 13-year-old daughter wrote a letter to the Rebbe.  “Dear Rebbe, like many other righteous people, my father has a great wish to live in the Land of Israel…Please make my father happy by giving him your consent and blessing to make Aliya.”

The Rebbe’s response to the young girl was detailed and profound.  He validated her feelings, but at the same time explained the importance of her father’s communal work.  “… Knowing your father, I have no doubt that he will feel in his element only in a place where he can fully utilize his knowledge and qualities for the benefit of the many.  Based on this, you will surly realize that he will be truly happy if he continues in his present situation and country.”

***

There is a form of happiness that comes from fulfilling our desires and then there is true happiness that results from fulfilling our potential and becoming a channel for something greater than ourselves.

When we forget about our own pursuits and instead devote ourselves fully to a greater cause, it is then that we attain genuine happiness. 

Man is not a “needy” being but a “purposeful” being.  When we immerse ourselves into things beyond the self, we graduate from artificial gratification to authentic inner happiness.

In today’s era and society, the self dominates.  But self-absorption is counterproductive, because happiness lies not in meeting our needs but in achieving our purpose.  

The Art of Listening

For a 3 minute audio click here 

I remember hearing a story as a child about a king who was constantly unhappy.  The king’s advisors did everything they could and came up with all kinds of ideas on how to make him happy.  But nothing worked.  Nothing could make the king happy.

Then one day, the king was alone and came across an elderly person in need.  The king helped the person and for the first time the king was overcome with a sense he had never experienced before, happiness.

The king ultimately learned that happiness came when he brought happiness to others.

*** 

My previous blog posts have been about gaining more happiness in our personal lives.  But this one is dedicated to bringing happiness into others’ lives.  

With all the noise going on in the background of our lives, we have to ask ourselves the question.  Are we really listening to our spouses? Do we as parents truly listen to our children? Are we listening to what our friends are trying to tell us?

Judaism is a religion of holy words. Through words, G‑d created the universe and our ability to speak is what makes us human. Words create. Words communicate. Our relationships are shaped, for good or bad, by language.

Yet, at the same time, Judaism places great importance on silence.  The silence that counts, in Judaism, is a listening silence.

Listening lies at the very heart of relationships. Listening means we are open to others, that we respect them and their feelings matter to us. A good parent listens to their child. A good employer listens to his or her workers. A good company listens to its customers or clients. A good leader listens to those he or she leads. Listening does not mean agreeing, but it does mean caring. Listening is the climate in which love and respect grow.

5 Listening Exercises

1.  Make eye contact.
If you don’t look at a person while they’re speaking, you give them the impression that you don’t care about what they have to say.

2.  Don’t interrupt.
Halt any thoughts that come to mind and let the person say everything they need to say. The goal is to shine the spotlight on them, not you.

3. Don’t try to fix.
Don’t feel pressured to give perfect solutions, advice and answers.  Often times people simply need someone to talk to, not someone who will fix their problems.

4. Listen without judgement.
Withhold negative evaluations or judgements.  Be open minded.  After all, who wants to open up to a narrow minded person? 

5. Move to a congenial environment.
It can be difficult to listen to another when the TV is blaring or your phone is buzzing.  Finding a quiet place to listen makes it much easier to listen empathetically and it indicates that you put importance on the person and what they have to say.  

The Kabbalah of Positive Thinking

For a 2 minute audio click here  

“Think good and it will be good!”
-The Tzemach Tzedek

When faced with challenges, negative attitudes cause one to shut down and decide from the outset that no matter the effort, failure is inevitable.

A negative attitude is like adding a foul-tasting ingredient to a recipe; no matter what you do to enhance the food, the taste is spoilt.

On the other hand, with a positive outlook one enters a situation confident of success from the very start.   That optimism allows one to truly apply him/her self without being held back.

 Put simply, a positive attitude allows you to give it your best shot.

But there are some limits to the effectiveness of positive thought. 

Sometimes the forces of adversity are just too strong to overcome.

This leads us to a deeper perspective on the power of positive thinking.

Kabbalah points to the fact that man has the power to influence the spiritual realms; our personal conduct elicits corresponding heavenly energies.  As the Zohar teaches, “The upper world gives to the lower according to the latter’s situation.”

When a human being approaches life with optimism and alacrity, he causes the higher spheres to do the same.  This positivity on high is translated into tangible goodness in our lives.  The Zohar continues, “If one maintains a bright face below, so is the illumination for him from above.”

“A person must speak and act in a positive manner, and a matching attitude will become permanently lodged in his heart.  Accordingly, G-d will arouse a merciful spirit upon him with joy and gladness of heart ....”
-The Tzemach Tzedek

This is the Kabbalistic dynamic of positive thinking: by thinking good we are truly influencing the outcome.  We are generating a flow of positive spiritual energy which translates itself into substantial results.

Talk the Talk

For an under 2 minute audio click here  

Many people worry about the future.   These worries, as reasonable or unreasonable as they may be, get in the way of our wellbeing and impinge on our joy.

There is a verse in Proverbs that says: “A worry in a person’s heart – cast it away”.

Is this verse advocating to ignore or suppress worrying thoughts?

Words in the Torah don’t have pronunciation vowels, so the word Yaschena “cast it away” can also be read as Yasichena from the word Sicha, which means to talk.  This leads the Talmud to interpret the verse as:  “A worry in a person’s heart – speak about it with others”.

But possibly the basic translation and the Talmudic interpretation actually complement one another.  The Talmud suggests a means through which one may be able to cast away worrying thoughts i.e. by talking it over with another person.

Our speech has the power to trigger our mind to think deeper.  Speech not only expresses our thoughts but also enhances and creates more thoughts.  When one articulates an issue they are facing, the spoken idea becomes clearer in the mind.  With a deeper understanding and broader picture, more perspective is gained and the worry might ease.

The Tzemach Tzedek commented on the phrase: "...with others" that they are "others" only in the bodily sense, but are completely one in spirit with the worrier.  This helps the worrier feel more loved and connected, which is very satisfying in itself.  

The Joy of Returning

For an under 2 minute audio click here 

Once on the day after Yom Kippur, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe asked his father, “What must we do now?” His father replied, “Now, we must begin to do Teshuvah.”
 
My superficial understanding of this story is that Teshuvah is something that we must do on every day of the year.
 
‘Teshuvah’ is commonly and wrongly translated as ‘repentance’.
 
Repentance in Hebrew is actually ‘Charatah’, which implies remorse or a feeling of guilt about the past, to such an extent that someone decides to become a ‘new person’.
 
‘Teshuvah’, however, means something quite different, namely to “return" to the old i.e. one's original nature. Teshuvah underlies the fact that the Jew is essentially good and that it is only desires or temptations that temporarily distract us from being ourselves and true to our essence. Thus Teshuvah means rediscovering our true selves, our genuine ‘I’.
 
Most people don’t consider happiness to be a spiritual quality. In Judaism, however, happiness is a spiritual obligation. As it says in Psalms “Serve G-d with Joy; come before Him with Joyful song”.  This also includes our service of Teshuvah.  Our motivation to do Teshuvah doesn’t arise from an awareness of our shortfalls, but rather from the appreciation of the infinite potential within our souls.
 
The idea of Teshuvah and the fact that nothing stands before it brings an immense sense of joy.

A Tale of Two Chassidim

For an under 2 minute audio click here 

 There were two Chassidim who lived in the city of Babruysk. Both were truly committed to their Judaism and they would often spend hours immersed in soulful prayer. However one was constantly sad while the other was always joyful.
 
The first Chassid would contemplate the origins of his soul, where it was completely united with its infinite Divine source, before it entered his body then compare it to where his soul was now, inhibited by human needs, limitations and failings.  This perception led him to bitterness.
 
The joyful Chassid’s Divine service, however, was motivated by optimism.  He would contemplate on where his soul was now and its potential for even more accomplishments through Mitzvot. In this way the soul climbs the ladder of spirituality and experiences meteoric growth.  He understood that we fulfil our mission in this world when we are challenged by our bodily existence and work to transform the physical around us into the spiritual, and in this way we rise to a level that is completely beyond our previous status.
 
At times bitterness can lead to dissatisfaction and like medicine when employed periodically, it can bring positive change.  But when one is constantly dissatisfied, that ultimately turns into negativity.  Constant joy, however, breeds an open mind and an open heart.

-   Based on a talk by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn
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