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Happiness Hacks

Velly's Blog

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Stop Trying to Find Your Purpose!

There is a form of happiness that comes from fulfilling our desires, and then there is happiness that results from fulfilling our potential and living with purpose.

When we forget about our own pursuits and instead devote ourselves beyond the self, it is then that we attain genuine happiness, for man is not a “needy” being but a “purposeful” being. When we immerse ourselves into things greater than ourselves, we graduate from artificial gratification to authentic inner happiness.

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In today’s era and society, the self dominates. But self-absorption is counterproductive, because happiness lies not in meeting our needs but in living with purpose, especially by making positive contributions to the lives of others.

The stumbling block to this form of genuine happiness is that we become overwhelmed by this challenging and daunting task of “finding our purpose.”

Where do I fit into this grandiose picture? What is my purpose? How do I go about finding my purpose? How do I know when I’m achieving it? And when, and if I do achieve it, what comes next?

I believe these challenges come about because we envision purpose as some kind of monumental achievement, or an extraordinary calling, as opposed to a consistent day to day process.

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Therefore, instead of trying to find your purpose, which is something that may remain forever elusive, endeavor to live purposefully. Living purposely can begin in the here and now, this very second, and can be implemented into our daily routines. Hopefully, one day we can look back and know we found our purpose by living a daily life of being purposeful.

Our internal qualities such as personality, convictions, interests and even weaknesses and vices, once disciplined and channeled, are all part of our distinctive purpose. Each person is unique, indispensable, absolutely necessary and granted with special qualities and distinctive responsibilities to fulfil their purpose. Self-discovery is the first step to knowing how to be purposeful.

Also, our opportunities, social and family circles, places we visit and the various experiences that come our way - although not inherent to our nature – give us our chance to be purposeful.

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 because we have an agenda and expectations. But in truth, wherever we are, whether it’s a place we would like to be or 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 accumulative energy of these factors – personal strengths, life’s opportunities, our sphere of influence and the geographical places we find ourselves in, carry the secret to our purpose in life.

Prayer: Disrupting the Digital Disruption

When I was younger, I experienced prayer as a form of conformity. Today, I experience prayer as a form of resistance.

I grew up in a typical Chabad family and as a religious Jew, praying three times daily was just something I did. Even in the school I attended, prayer was marked just like any other subject. Report cards would grade our attendance, behaviour and involvement during prayer. For so many years, prayer for me was just a routine task.

Today as a Rabbi (which is not your average 9 to 5 desk job!) with a lifestyle that is very demanding, more and more often I find myself struggling with prioritising my attention within my work, and trying to create a healthy work, life and family balance.

Technology and social media are not helping. Instinctively, in every free second I have, I find my hand searching for my phone and almost unconsciously begin the lifeless scroll through the usual suspects: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.

By the time I raise my head from the screen, my mind is filled with politics, gossip and news that does little to enrich my day to day life.

So today, prayer for me is a way to stop, and disrupt the monotony. To remind myself of my purpose. To reinforce the structures in my life and to do all this with a more heightened focus.

Another look at prayer

The English term prayer comes from the Medieval Latin word precariat, meaning ‘petition’, which is from precari, meaning ‘to ask for, or entreat’.

As human beings, when facing a problem or when we are in need, we turn to our natural resources to help. When we’re sick, we go to the Doctor. When we need a loan, we go to the bank.

But sometimes we cap our natural reserves, and we need to look a little higher. We pray, beseech, even beg for what we lack and are unable to obtain on our own.

Prayer, at its most basic form, is the human call for divine help.

The problem with the above is, if we’re not particularly lacking for anything, or have no wants or needs, then we have no requirement for prayer.

More importantly, if prayer was all about requesting and imploring, then ‘Prayer’ in Hebrew would not be called tefillah, but bakashah – which means request, or beseech.

Our daily prayers are not simply requests addressed to G‑d and nothing more. Of course, such requests are also included in our prayers, but by and large our prayers are much more than that.

Prayer in Hebrew is tefillah. The literal interpretation of the Hebrew word tefillah is to attach oneself—to join or to unite.

During prayer we join our Neshomoh—the divine spark within us—to its divine source. Just as a small flame when it is put close to a larger flame is absorbed into the larger flame, our soul longs to be reunited with and reabsorbed by its source.

In these oases in time set aside for prayer, our soul unites with its source and is nourished, refreshed and recharged.

When we engage in prayer properly, we are meant to feel a fresh flow of energy from our source.

This is the function of tefillah, and these moments of connection are necessary for everyone. While there may be those who do not lack anything and thus have nothing to request of G‑d, there is no one who does not need the precious opportunity prayer provides— to attach oneself to the source of all life and a higher purpose.

For me, prayer is not about changing my situation. It’s about changing myself to properly address and take on the given situation.

G‑d does not need my prayers; He can do without it, but I cannot do without my prayers.

Prayer is the ability to say no to the demands of technology and the world around us—to turn off devices, noise and societal pressures, and be in control of your time.

Daily prayer offers a micro taste of Sabbath within the mayhem of the daily grind.

In Hebrew, a prayer book is not called a Sefer tefilah (which would be Hebrew for a prayer book) but siddur, which comes from the Hebrew word ‘seder’, which means ‘order’. The Siddur has the set order of the regular prayers. But perhaps more profoundly, it is called siddur because it offers the ability to bring order to the chaos of our lives.

When I pray alone, it allows for my mind to breathe, to confide with the Creator of the Universe my fears but also my dreams. It is a time of self-reflection and self-evaluation. Am I being a positive influence on my surroundings? Am I fulfilling my potential? Am I grateful for the many blessings in my life? Do I live with humility, acknowledging that all those blessing are a gift from above.

When I pray with community, it creates a shared harmonious experience with other human beings. My song and my prayers are lifted and carried with the tunes and prayers of others. I feel reassured with this strong sense of community and belonging.

Today, I no longer pray for my prayers to be answered. I pray to connect. I pray to gain insight, to know my needs and what I should be praying for in the first place. I pray to direct my mind and heart to the source of my blessings and comprehend their true objectives.

So, while the world mindlessly conforms, with their heads in their devices, I make time to read the ancient Hebrew words of the Siddur, to disrupt and help me rise above the monotony and enslavements of daily life.

Three short prayers to start with:

1. Modeh Ani. 

Immediately upon awakening every day, while still lying in bed, we express thanks to G-d for the gift of life by saying the Modeh Ani prayer.

Modeh ani lefanecha melech chai vekayam, she-he-chezarta bee nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha.

I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

Modeh Ani encourages our first conscious moments are ones of gratitude and purpose.

Thank you for the gift of life. Thank you for today and the opportunities it brings. Most importantly, thank you for having faith in me that I will accomplish something worthwhile today. That it was worth my soul returning back into this physical world, because there is something I need to do today that no one else can achieve.

My every interaction today has a purpose; to bring perfection into our sometimes imperfect world and to transform darkness into light. 

2. The night-time Shema.

Many people suffer from the resentments and grudges they harbour.

Letting go of resentments is not just about feeling better, it’s about getting rid of the one thing that stops us from living our true lives.

It’s not only unloading, but also reloading—reclaiming our lives back.

Letting go of the past hurt is integral to mental, emotional and spiritual health. The problem is that we allow resentments to fester without dealing with them immediately.

Each day should start new and fresh, with no leftover baggage from the day before. The Hebrew word for sleep, Sheinah, resembles the Hebrew word for change, Shinui. We want our tomorrow to be different and not be burdened by today. And we all know that how we slept at night determines a lot of how we perform the next day.

Before we retire at night, we pray the night time Shema. It begins with a paragraph on forgiveness, which helps ease the stress and anger that may result from hurt by another.

Before the day ends, we engage in a process of self-empowerment by letting go of some of our resentments, and moving on to a better place. When saying the Shema we place our hand over our eyes. We are trying to see a place we can only see with eyes closed; a tomorrow with endless potential that is not inhibited by resentments from the past.

3. The shortest and succinct prayer I know: A deep breath in and a long exhale out.

The word נשמה (Neshamah) or ‘soul’ is a cognate of the word נשימה (Neshimah) ‘to breathe’.

Many people suffer emotional stress and unhappiness caused by their attempts to control the uncontrollable. When I try to control the uncontrollable, I forfeit my true identity and the result is emotional stress and tension.

The very fact that we were born as our own person with a soul, testifies that we are here to live a specific life.

There are experiences we are meant to have and people we are meant to be of service to. We are not here to reach a model of perfection. Just are here to live our own best lives and to be true to ourselves.

A key factor that stops us is the obsession with controlling the uncontrollable.

Functional living is living in reality, living in the moment as it is, and being ok with this moment, the way G-d wants it to be. By trying to control the uncontrollable, by not living our lives, we are trying to play G-d.

Throughout the day, when we encounter difficult moments that are beyond our control, stopping and taking a deep breath reaffirms that my story has an author, and that is G-d, and in this moment things are exactly how they need to be. Things can change from moment to moment, but for now, I’m exactly where I need to be. A deep breath is my faith, which allows me to face reality.

One Candle at a Time

 For a 2 minute audio version click here

On the first night of Chanukah we light one candle, on the second two, on the third three and so on. What lies behind this? 

Jewish holidays and their customs don’t simply commemorate historical events. Indeed they are primarily spiritual. On a Jewish holiday, the same energy that created it re-emerges and allows us to tap into its meaning and message. At the heart of every Jewish holiday is something real and relevant, something timeless and eternal for us to capitalise on.

Lighting the Menorah represents the spiritual and moral strength we all possess to overcome darkness and bring more light and inspiration to ourselves and the world. The Menorah epitomises our personal dedication and commitment to battle our ‘inner enemy’, which wishes to contaminate our inner sanctuary and stop us from being the people we can truly be.

The way we light the Menorah is not simply about numbers or patterns, but is in fact a strategy for meaningful living.

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Living a productive life involves turning away from inner negativity by decreasing bad behaviour and increasing in goodness by filling our days with positive energy and actions. Quite simply, there are things I won’t do and there are things I must do.

But on which of these approaches should we focus more of our energy?

The Menorah teaches us not to wait until we are fully clear of negativity and dysfunction. This may never occur; hence we lose the opportunity to make constructive change. By filling our life with positivity and acts of goodness and kindness, slowly the inner darkness will disappear. 

We never begin with focusing on negativity. When working on living a meaningful life, always begin with positivity, even if personal issues remain unresolved. Create a schedule filled with small and manageable positive actions. True, initially the light may be small, perhaps only one candle. But as the days go on, our light will get brighter and brighter. Allow it to grow and the personal miracles will unfold.

Be A Star

For a 2 minute audio version click here 

Even when we make a genuine effort to associate with people who face life optimistically and to spend more time in uplifting environments, it’s still not always possible to escape undesirable surroundings. This could be the atmosphere of your workplace or a toxic family member. And to change one’s employment or disavow a family member is neither practical nor menschlich. 

While we are shaped by our environment, we also have the ability to be proactive and to influence others. We can choose to be givers rather than receivers and when we focus on turning outwards and positively influencing and inspiring others, we don’t absorb negativity from the atmosphere around us.

65. Be a Star.jpgWhen we are in the company of family and friends we should not be afraid to let our voices be heard and to be proactive about our values. This does not mean one should be confrontational or condescending. Rather, we should share what we believe is beneficial, healthy and worthy, in a spirit of genuine love. By busying ourselves spreading positivity and helping others, chances are we simply won’t have time to get dragged down by any negativity in our environment.

In Genesis, to illustrate the sheer multitude of Abraham’s prospective descendants, G-d compares them to the stars of the sky. But the lesson from the stars is not only their quantity. The specific utilisation and the quality of the stars teaches us an important lesson: the stars were the original GPS system. By their light, even one walking in the darkness of the desert or travelling the vast ocean does not blunder.   So too the descendants of Abraham are like stars, possessing enough moral and spiritual light to influence others.

We all have people in our lives who could be, inspired, or moved in the right direction, and it is our unique message and delivery that can help.

Go ahead. Be the star G-d spoke of so many years ago! 

Life is like a Perfume Shop

For an under 2 minute audio click here 

It’s a mistake to think that adults are immune to peer pressure.   Confident and resilient though they may be, adults are nonetheless impressionable. 

Human beings are social creatures. Our friends, community and society in general influence our perspectives, values, ethics and choices.

The impact that our surroundings have on us is not always obvious. Often it’s a subtle, more subconscious effect that changes one’s feelings, sensitivities or aspirations. The Midrash provides us with a wonderful analogy. One who walks into a perfume shop leaves there smelling good, even if she or he doesn’t actually dab the perfume directly on themselves.  

This analogy holds true with the people with whom we associate. We take with us their ways of conduct and approach to living.

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Want to develop your sensitivity? Spend more time with compassionate people.

Thirsting for more spirituality? Surround yourself with people who are more spiritually inclined.

Want to develop a more positive attitude toward yourself and the world around you? Socialise with people who face life in an optimistic manner.

We all need to invest our time in environments that are uplifting. A physically and spiritually healthy social circle will generate and enhance constructive and healthy living.  

Letting Go

For an under 2 minute audio version click here  

There are certain things in life we can only see with eyes closed. There are certain things in life we can only grasp by letting them go.

How often in life have we been stuck on a certain project and only when we stopped obsessing and let go did the creativity begin to flow again.

In life our journey is best traveled lightly. Letting go of past hurt is integral to our mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Holding onto resentments is like setting yourself on fire and expecting the other person will die of smoke inhalation.

It’s not easy to let go of resentments, but it is within the capacity of what human beings are capable of.

Many people are told by family and friends, “let go and you will feel better”.

But in truth, letting go of resentments is not just about feeling better.

There is much more one can do to feel better, for example, visiting a spa or going on vacation. However letting go is about getting rid of whatever stops us from living our true lives. Grudges and resentments too often dictate the way we live and therefore stop us from being true to ourselves and to our purpose in life.

Letting go is not unloading; it is reloading and reclaiming our lives.

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Course of action:

When I carry resentments, I am allowing the tyranny of people, places and things to direct the story of my life. I am therefore attributing uniquely G-d like power to them and I am in fact idolizing my resentments.

We need to decide who occupies the space of our mind. When we focus on ourselves, our journey in life and the people we are meant to be of service to, we become less consumed by resentments and more empowered by our dignity. 

15 Steps to Personal Freedom

The Pesach Seder can reach deep into the human psyche and help develop a sense of inner freedom within all who participate. 

Every detail is firmly grounded in the mystical teachings of Judaism. Each step has not just a body, but a soul as well, a simple meaning as well as a deep lesson towards higher consciousness.

The Seder’s success is awe-inspiring. No ritual has survived so long and so true to its original form. No lesson has affected humankind with such impact, propagating the values of human dignity, liberty and the search for higher meaning.

To this day, in every corner of the world, Jews come together to reconstruct that original Passover Seder, again and again, year after year. And every year, there is more to learn.

Step

How

Personally speaking…

Kadesh

Everyone stands and says the blessing on the cup of wine together.  We drink while leaning to the left.

 

‘Kadesh’ means to sanctify, but it can also be translated as ‘separate’ or ‘transcend’. The beginning of all journeys is separation. You’ve got to leave somewhere to go somewhere else.  To begin the journey to liberation one must make a move. Laziness and sluggishness are the antithesis of the exodus. A free person is an active and proactive one.  To live a free life and express your full humanity means never to be complacent and satisfied with your personal growth and your moral achievements.

Urchatz

Wash our hands (3 times on the right and 3 times on the left) before eating a wet vegetable. Don’t say a blessing after washing.  Strange!!  One of the reasons we do this is to prompt the kids to ask questions.

As we head into the journey of self- refinement, we clean our hands from destructive tendencies and dependences of the past. No liberation is possible without this step.

But self-awareness can also bring us face to face with blame, regret and resentment.  The danger here is becoming driven by obsessive guilt and remorse and we can exit dirtier than when we entered. Urchatz encourages us to do it cleanly.  Contemplate on how you are a soul being brought into existence at this very moment with a purpose.  Live right now and the future will take care of itself.

Karpas

Dip a vegetable into salt water, say the blessing “Baruch …Borei Pri Ha’adamoh”. This blessing is also for the maror that we will eat later.

As we dig into our life story we will learn that sometimes the ‘salty’ can be sweet.  Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth.  Pain is awareness and awareness is half the cure.  The ‘saltiness’ of our past, allowed us to view life from a different angle and to rediscover our true self.  While some see their pain as G-d’s abandonment of them, others see it as a divine communication that lets us know that we are capable of more, prompting our very best efforts and the use of the full extent of our abilities.

Yachatz

The Middle Matzah is broken in two. The larger piece is broken into five and is hidden as the Afikomen. The smaller piece is left between the two whole pieces.

Humility and vulnerability is the message of this fourth step. The fake sense of ‘I am whole’ is the greatest obstacle to genuine liberation.  Humility is not lowliness. Humility is lack of self-absorption. We realise our qualities and abilities were given to us from Above. Humility is not self-deprecating, but rather it is a recognition of one’s own good qualities and realising how lucky we are to have them.

Maggid

Read from the Haggadah. Tell the whole story out loud of leaving Egypt.

Tell the story, teach the story. Study, learn, and learn some more. It expands your horizons, challenges your ego and brings you to a deeper place inside of yourself.  Each of us has our inner child, who is always curious and takes nothing for granted. We must safeguard that sensitivity within us and allow it to ask and express its pure and sincere perspective. Never say “I'm too old and set in my ways to learn something new.”

 

Rachtzah

 

Wash our hands again (3 times on the right and 3 times on the left). This time, we say the blessing “Baruch... al Netilat Yadaim” and we cannot speak until we have eaten the Matzah.

Learning new things and asking questions are fantastic, but action is paramount! Immediately after we learn the story, we follow with something concrete. We wash our hands and make a blessing, we do a Mitzvah. If you're bogged down by negativity, surround yourself with goodness and kindness. The first step out, is up.  The path to G-d is through doing good, not just by abstaining from bad.

Motzi

Grab all three Matzahs - the top one, the broken middle one and the bottom one - and pick them up a little. Say the blessing of ‘Hamotzi’

“Hamotzi” means to “He who brings forth”.  Extract the opportunities in everything you come in contact with or anything you own. Liberation is not only about overcoming what holds down, but also about being free to utilize all of our gifts and extract the productive and meaningful possibilities inherent in them.

Matzah

Recite the blessing "Baruch… Al Achilas Matzah." Eat as much Shmura Matzah as you can without speaking while leaning to the left.

Baking handmade Shmura Matzah requires physical labour. Matzah is defined as “the bread of faith.” It is the bread the Jews ate on the night they became a people. The effort of creating handmade matzah, is equally true about faith.  Our relationship with G-d must be alive and passionate!  Our faith cannot be mechanical.  It must be vibrant and active.   Faith takes constant work and exercise.

Maror

Eat ground horseradish root (wrap it in a leaf of romaine lettuce to put out the fire!) and eat it in one shot. It’s okay if you cry :-)

 

Bitterness is an integral and positive component of self-growth.  We need to understand our mistakes and feel pain for our mishaps.  This keeps us humble, balanced and honest and it motivates change.  True freedom contains a healthy measure of serious self-criticism.

But the moment bitterness becomes the dominant emotion in life, it spoils and corrodes all potential to grow.  Insure that your dissatisfaction comes with a certain passion that motivates positive change.

Korach

Make a sandwich with Matzah and Maror, dip it in Charoset and enjoy!

Life is a roller-coaster. Rich moments, bland moments and bitter moments. Liberation comes when we discover the art of sandwiching all the components of our life into one. Acknowledge the bitter moments and realise how they have made us a better and stronger person.  These bitter moments show us that we have the ability to go beyond what our rational mind limits us to, that we are able to rise above mediocrity and realise our enormous potential.

Shulchan Orech

Finally, you can enjoy your delicious meal!

 

Some people think that being an observant Jew means not enjoying life.  That's not true.  Judaism wants us to enjoy the world that G-d gave us.  G-d wants us to have pleasure so long as what we do is dignified and for the sake of refreshing ourselves so that we can serve G-d even better.  Man is not a ‘needy’ being but a ‘purposeful’ being.

Tzafun

Eat the Afikomen that was put away in Yachatz (step #4). Eat it while leaning to the left and make sure that this is the last thing that you eat at the Seder.

The word “Tzafun” means hidden.  We are surrounded by many blessings, but often do not see them since they are ‘blessings in disguise’. By noticing G-d’s favours in the repetitive rhythms of life and appreciating His wonderful gifts to us, nature turns miraculous.

Barech

We fill the third cup of wine, recite the Grace after Meals and after reciting the blessing over the wine we drink it reclining on our left side.

 

Be grateful.  Thank and thank and thank some more. Don’t take anything for granted.  A grateful person is a happy person because he realises that everything he has is a gift. Nothing is taken ‘for’ granted, but ‘as’ granted from G-d. When we are so focused on getting more, we lose the chance to focus on what we already have and gain happiness from it.  Appreciation is an art that needs to be developed.  If we truly appreciate all that we have, we'll appreciate life in its totality.

 

 

Hallel

 

We sing the Hallel, songs of praise to Hashem.

 

 

Be generous in compliments.  We tend to point out the negative in ourselves and in others but find it hard to sincerely compliment the abundant positive in all of us.

Hallel means to praise and that is exactly what we should be doing constantly. Find the good and magnify it.

When we praise, it benefits us, too.  When we praise
 G-d it makes us focus on His goodness and encourages us to follow in His ways. Praising G-d bring the awareness that it is the Almighty who bestowed all these pleasures upon us. This awareness greatly enhances the value of these pleasures.

Nirtzah

Sing “L’shana Habah B’Yerushalayim!” (Next Year in Jerusalem)

‘Nirtzah’ literally means ‘favourably accepted’ because we are confident that Hashem accepted our prayers and thanks during the Seder. We must always have complete faith that G-d is listening to our prayers!

Pray for something and believe with full faith that it will come true. Simple prayers are more powerful than you may think!

The Matzah of Recovery

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Many people believe that matzah was an accidental invention, the result of the children of Israel hastily fleeing from Egypt with no time for their dough to rise. As the verse states, “They baked the dough that they had brought out of Egypt into matzah rounds, for it had not leavened – because they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay.”[1]

Yet earlier in the very same chapter we see the Jews already had eaten matzah the night before they left Egypt. Obeying G-d’s instructions, they conducted a seder which featured three primary foods: “They shall eat the meat [of the Pascal Lamb]. It shall be roasted over fire eaten with matzah and bitter herbs.”[2]

So seemingly matzah was not created by accident. How can we reconcile this with the verse that indicates that matzah was a result of the rush out of Egypt?

One answer suggests that there were two “matzah moments” that were both integral parts of the Exodus story. One matzah the Jews ate while still in Egypt pre redemption. Another matzah was eaten while escaping Egypt post redemption.

Jewish mysticism teaches that the Jewish people in Egypt suffered not only physical enslavement, but were also habituated to pagan beliefs and very unholy lifestyles.   It was a time of deep spiritual bondage; after so many years of dependence, they had neither the tools nor the courage to escape from it.

“The supreme king, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself unto (the Jews) and redeemed them.”[3]

It was with His help that a morally corrupt and spiritually desensitised people were able to overcome such extreme helplessness and be ready for redemption. Now the Jews were finally ready to be liberated from their external and internal task masters.

But G-d does not help until we show we are ready for redemption. That’s why the commandment to eat matzah came before G-d delivered the Jews. Matzah - which is simply bread that does not rise and inflate - represents a state of self-reckoning and humility wherein individuals realise that where they are now is not where they want to be. This is a very healthy sense of humility which is an absolute prerequisite to redemption.

So which matzah are we commemorating at the seder?  

The answer is “both”.

We recall the accidental matzah that was the result of the hasty escape, but we also appreciate and remember the effort the children of Israel made to humble themselves in anticipation of the redemption, as symbolised by the matzah they ate the previous night. 

The story of Egyptian exile was a prototype of all subsequent exiles both national and personal.

Nobody wants to admit defeat. But it is “…only through utter defeat that we are we able to take our first steps towards liberation and strength. Our admission of personal powerlessness finally turns out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.”[4]

Refusing to believe that our lives have become unmanageable is being in denial and many seem to be very good at that. In order to take the appropriate steps towards recovery, we first must accept that there is a problem. If we can recognise this and that we personally lack the control to repair it, our next conclusion is inevitably that we need to enlist help from a power greater than ourselves.

This is where humility comes in as a mode for day to day living, a “complete deflation”, which allows us to look outside ourselves for the much needed help which is the basis of recovery.

And so it was with the Exodus. G-d’s redemption only came once the Jews had their serving of humble matzah. They recognised they were in a place they did not want to be and that only through the true power of G-d were they able to be redeemed. As the famous AA recovery slogan goes, “There is no magic in recovery, just miracles.”

So as you crunch on your matzah this Pesach, let go of your ego and allow G-d to enter. Only this will  provide the humility and sobriety that is necessary to free us from our personal bondage.
_____________________
 

[1] Exodus 12:39 

[2] Exodus 12:8

[3] Passover Haggadah

[4] Twelve steps and twelve traditions (AA)

Purim & Recovery

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Dear Rabbi,

You are well acquainted with my recovery from alcohol addiction and how this journey brought me back to my Jewish heritage.

Due to my previous limited understanding, I always saw Purim as a Jewish version of Halloween. My recent Jewish learning, however, has now given me much more understanding and appreciation of this Jewish holiday, its historical significance and meaning for us as Jews today. 

But as a recovering alcoholic there is just one detail I cannot comprehend. How can Jews be encouraged to consume alcohol in excess on Purim to the point where one “cannot differentiate between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”[1]?

Firstly, the dangers of alcohol are well known. How can there be an endorsement of such extreme levels of intoxication where one cannot discern between the most basic distinctions? Secondly, how can I, a recovering alcoholic, fulfil this obligation? There must be more to this mitzvah!

 
Dear ______,
 
As always your questions are good ones. 
 
As this issue affects your road to recovery, I first must say that many halachic authorities maintain that these words from the Talmud are not meant to be taken literally.  We are not meant to get totally trashed on this holiday. Rather we should say a l’chaim and rejoice in G-d’s salvation and kindness. The mitzvah only applies if one’s behavior remains at the high standard expected by the Torah.
 
But your questions still stand. What’s the point of making alcohol, even if only a small amount, a part of Purim and does this preclude your participation?
 
In Chassidic thought there is an inherent connection between Purim and saying l’chaim.
 
Many of the Jews of Shushan were far from involved in Jewishness. They were deeply integrated into Persian society and its way of life. Yet when Achashverosh’s decree of annihilation hung over their heads, something unparalleled in Jewish history happened. Every Jew’s soul was aroused to the point that a fast day was declared and all cried out for G-d’s help.
 
We have no accounts of the Jews of Shushan reneging on their Jewish identity to escape their death. Haman chose the Jews because they were ‘different’, so it would have made sense for the Jews to prove to Haman that they were ‘good Persians’ just like him.  Instead every Jew on his or her own volition put complete trust in G-d and turned to prayer and repentance.
 
After 70 years in exile, when the Jews had felt abandoned by G-d, this was an astonishing, illogical act, an extreme self-sacrifice for G-d’s name that defied reason.
 
Jewish holidays ultimately are not historical commemorations, but rather are spiritually meaningful.  Purim is really not about dressing up or drinking, but about rekindling our relationship with G-d, something that outweighs any threat, even one of annihilation.
 
However sometimes we feel stuck and uninspired when this connection with the Almighty is not tangible. So we make a l’chaim. Not to escape, nor to avoid responsibility, nor to drown our sorrows, but to strip away some of our coarseness and self-consciousness, in order to feel deeper involvement with our soul and its sublime relationship with G-d. The l’chaim lowers our guard and decreases our inhibitions and allows us to experience the awe-inspiring things we are often too reserved to appreciate.
 
There is a very specific and virtuous goal to drinking on Purim. It’s not about losing yourself, but about getting closer to your self. This is the dedicated Jew’s ambition.   
 
So what about your situation where alcohol is poisonous?   I know our sages would never encourage life threatening activity and therefore you are completely exempt from this mitzvah.
 
Yes, exempt from this mitzvah on the day of Purim, but you and I know that in fact you celebrate Purim every day.
 
Some people can only let G-d in when they are under the influence of chemicals to take Him deeper within. But every second of your life, you let G-d in by being free from substances and their effects. That ‘Purim – Jew – G-d – relationship’ is your everyday reality. Your recovery is fueled by humility, acceptance, faith and trust. Your life is Purim all year round. You vividly see G-d’s hand directing your life and it is this very recognition that keeps you alive. 
 
This Purim, when you won’t be drinking alcohol, you will be performing the greatest possible mitzvah.   
 
And always remember you have four other mitzvot to delight in on that day. To hear the Megillah, to give gifts to two poor people and a food package to a friend and to sit down to a Purim feast[2].
 
Have a heartfelt and joyous Purim, my friend. I so look forward to sharing a sumptuous meal with you and our fellow Jews.

[1] Talmud Tractate Megillah 7B  
[2] “Better that a person should increase his gifts to the poor on Purim than to expand his Purim feast and gifts of food to his friends. For there is no greater and more beautiful celebration than to make happy the poor, the orphan, the widow and the immigrant. One who rejoices the hearts of these sorrowful people is similar to the Divine Presence, as the prophet says (Isaiah 57:15), ‘To revive the spirit of the downtrodden and to revive the heart of the oppressed’.” Maimonides, Laws of Purim (2:17)

The “Inner Peace” Myth

For a 2 minute audio click here 

People have always wondered what are the forces and objectives that drive humanity

Jewish philosophy teaches that there is no one answer. Rather, two distinct and opposing agendas, which derive from two different modes of consciousness, are what drive us.

It is human nature to be inconsistent. Our desires can be contradictory. At times we seek base and materialistic pleasure, at other times we yearn for meaning and spirituality. Chassidic philosophy explains that this dichotomy is a result of the ongoing inner battle between our G-dly soul and our animal soul, each fighting for supremacy and control. 

The particulars of this struggle are unique to each individual. Our G-dly soul, which is the source of all that is good within us, strives for sanctity and transcendence, looking to use all our resources and talents in the interest of developing a relationship with G‑d and to help our fellows.

Our animal soul, however, fights to drag us down into mundane depths in order to fulfill its selfish desires. It is governed by instinct and impulse. The results of the animal drive range from basic self-centeredness, all the way to self-destructive action. Like competing wrestlers, one drive may be in control at one moment, the other drive in control the next.

In life, many look to attain inner peace and serenity. But when tranquility remains elusive, they feel deprived. This may lead to potentially destructive distractions and escapes - unfortunately even through the medium of artificial stimulants - to avoid inner tension.

In our lifetime on earth, inner peace is not a given. But our goal should be that the force of all that is good within us gains mastery over the animalistic. While the struggle may continue our entire lives, we must constantly be involved with good, plugging in deeper into our G-dly souls.

Of Comfort and Challenge

 For an under 2 minute audio click here 

The Talmud says: “Wherever the term “ויהי” and it was, is mentioned in scripture, it is an expression of pain” i.e. it introduces a painful narrative.

This idea can be applied to life as well. When we are very much preoccupied with thoughts of the past, discerning nothing good in the present and not anticipating the potential of the future, that is a sign of anguish. 

Jewish festivals - which often may seem like mere historical commemorations - are all in some way spiritually tied to the future. While Pesach begins by recalling the exodus from Egypt, the second half of the seder talks of our ultimate redemption and concludes with the declaration “Next year in Jerusalem”. Shavuot, to take another example, ostensibly commemorates the giving of the Torah to our ancestors on Sinai. Yet at its essence lies our commitment to keep the Torah into the future. Our rejoicing is not a preoccupation with the past, but lies in the vision of a glorious future. And although the future seems uncertain (thus posing challenges), it still generates joy because it holds the promise and potential of what may be.

From the past we may take comfort, but the future promises excitement. 

When we face new challenges, we are able to rise above mediocrity. Challenges prompt our very best efforts and the use of our abilities to their full extent. Challenges can spark journeys deep into our souls to discover what we are truly capable of.

The past is over. The anticipation and enticing realisation of what remains to be done far outweigh dusty memories, no matter how pleasant.

The Unavoidable and the Optional

For an under 2 minute audio click here 

Some teach that a virtuous life is where one never is angry. Others suggest one should express their anger freely, for pent up anger can have serious negative emotional effects on a person. 

Both these approaches are extreme and a healthy medium is what we should persue. There is a difference between feeling and reacting. Feeling is unavoidable. Reacting is optional and reacting is a choice. With a clearheaded judgment one can decide the most sensible way to react with the best possible results. Without this judgment, anger turns into rage, which has no benefits and it only causes destruction.

Taking control of our reactions consist of training ourselves to exercise restraint when we are provoked, even if we feel that we are in the right. 

Practice restraint by:

Giving it some time

Pausing for time and not acting immediately on one’s anger firstly allows the anger to die away. When anger first explodes, it appears to be a raging fire that cannot be stopped. But doesn’t the biggest conflagration eventually burn out?

Secondly, pausing gives us time to regain control and operate with a rational and clear mind.

Responding in a soft voice

Rage feeds upon itself. Our own tone of voice can dictate the things we may say or do in that particular moment. A soft voice in response to rage is like depriving a fire of its oxygen.

Grandeur or Humility?

 For an under 2 minute audio version click here 

A healthy self-concept is vital to happiness and the Key to this is humility.  Yet, when humility is misunderstood and one sees themselves and being insignificant, they will stop caring about their actions, believing that they are of no importance, which can ultimately lead to the extremes of inactivity and laziness or immoral behaviour and slavery to ones every impulse.

Authentic humility is when one is completely unabsorbed with themselves.  Humble people keep complete focus on their mission in life, for they recognise that G-d created man not as a “needy” being but as a “purposeful” being.  This is a form of healthy personal grandeur, where one understands that a single act can change the world forever, that something eternal is at stake in every deed we perform, that every human being is a partner with G-d in the story of the universe, and that we each have a unique mission that only we can accomplish. This should lead to a profound sense of responsibility to carry out this mission in the best possible manner.

Reb Simcha Bunim pf Pshischa one gave a Chossid of his two pieces of paper.  One with the statement by Abraham in Genesis, “I am but dust and ashes”, and the other with the words of the Talmud, that everyone must say, “The world was created for my sake”, and told him to place the papers in two different pockets.   Reb Simcha than said that our challenge in life and the secret to purposeful living is to know when to flash which piece of paper.

A healthy “happiness inducing” self-concept, is keeping in mind and blending both the humility and the grandeur of the human being.

The Duty to Bless

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It’s human nature to experience an emotional spike of joy when we get something new.  But new ultimately becomes normal and we don’t find happiness in normal. So we look for the new new.  The cycle never ends. When we are so focused on getting more, we lose the chance to appreciate what we already have.
 
Many see the drive to accumulate more as a result of unhappiness and the need to fill the emptiness that unhappiness brings.  But in truth, the drive for more means that our minds and hearts are focused on something negative i.e. that which we don’t have. This is not just a roadblock to happiness, it is also a path that leads to unhappiness.
 
A Jewish antidote to this vicious cycle is offered by the Kuzari: “One’s pleasure is enhanced by the duty of saying blessings over everything we enjoy or that happens to us.”
 
The Jewish morning prayer (Shacharit) begins with several preliminary blessings to thank G-d for providing us with our daily needs and for performing everyday miracles.  Some of these blessings include thanks for waking in the morning, our body functioning properly, our sight, freedom, clothing, strength etc.
 
These blessings of thanks force us to begin our day with gratitude which is an antidote to taking things for granted and is therefore a key to happiness.
The gratitude we feel then for what we have does not come only from the thing itself but also from appreciating that it is the Almighty who bestowed all these pleasures upon us. This awareness greatly enhances the value of these pleasures.
 
Here is a practical exercise:
Imagine what your life would be like without some of the things we often so easily take for granted eg your home, family, job, health etc.  Then, recite a prayer thanking G-d for providing you with that gift.

My Every Need

 For an under 2 minute audio version click here 

The Jewish morning prayer (Shacharit) begins with several preliminary prayers and blessings to thank G-d for providing us with our daily needs and for performing everyday miracles.  These prayers are meant to be said at home before one goes to synagogue.  The objective of these blessings are to notice G-d’s favours in the repetitive rhythms of life and to appreciate His wonderful gifts to us. In these blessings, nothing is taken for granted, but as granted.

One of the blessings states: “Blessed are You, …O G-d…who has provided me my every need”.

A story is told of a righteous Jew who, despite living in utter poverty, was always naturally happy.  When asked how he was able to maintain such a positive attitude in the face of such trying circumstances, he responded that each day he prayed to G-d to provide all his needs.  “If I am poor than one of my needs is poverty.  Why should I be unhappy if I have whatever I need?”

It’s not possible for many of us to achieve this intense level of trust.  Still we can work to develop in our personal lives a more sincere trust in G-d. 

Children prefer lollies, but we would rather give them healthy and nourishing foods.   Children cry from injections, but we still immunise them because we know what is good for them.

Sincere trust in G-d means realising that G-d knows our needs better than even we do.  Even some very unpleasant experiences are actually for our good.

A practical take away:  try to handle adversity with less anger and resentment by contemplating that G-d is compassion and he gives me that which he knows, far better than I, what I truly need.

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