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November 21, 2014 / 28 Heshvan, 5775
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Whining And Dining, Nickel And Dimeing

Earlier this month, I spent the July 4th weekend at an out-of-town Shabbaton. Getting together with other people is always an educational experience for me in terms of being exposed to quirks - both good and bad – of other human beings. There is always something to learn when people interact with strangers and friends alike.

I therefore was not surprised by the various attitudes and verbalizations I witnessed during the course of the weekend. Predictably, some were positive and inspiring – others could be
considered funny – if they weren’t so sad. There were the usual manifestations of the three dysfunctional C’s - Critical, Cranky (kvetzy in Yiddish) and Cheap. These traits are actually
symptoms of unhappy individuals who do not allow themselves to be b’simcha due to impaired self-esteem.

For example, there were a few of what I call the “born again” health food enthusiasts who pointed out the cholesterol-raising fried chicken, the fatty mayonnaise-drenched salads, the bleached white flour rolls, the high-sodium whitefish, and the artery clogging kishka. Instead of just enjoying the meal and quietly avoiding the food they felt was not for them – they felt compelled to complain and be negative – traits that are not conducive to attracting potential mates.

As it is known to happen on hot, humid days, the air conditioning conked out on the bus that was made available for those wanting the convenience of door to door service. There were
many disgruntled consumers who vented and focused on their discomfort.

I too was hot, but we weren’t in a sweltering cattle car headed to Auschwitz, so how could I possibly complain? Compared to what our ancestors had to go through since the Churban haBayit and the Exile – we have it amazingly good. A few inconveniences here and there in our comfort zones are just that – inconveniences. (Putting things in perspective can do wonders for your mood and your mental health.)

Rides home were sought for those who refused to go back in the bus – even though the evening ride would be cooler – and drivers approached who had room in their car. Some insisted on monetary compensation for taking on a passenger - in the $30 to $40 range. I
couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the concept of just doing a chesed.

But compassion for the people who are captives of the Almighty Dollar is in order.

Life must be miserable for men and women who allow themselves to be imprisoned by money. Their daily lives are spent in conflict and self debate – arguing with themselves if they should
buy this or that or forgo it, wondering if they got the best possible price for their trip, their outfit, or their car. They do not allow themselves the freedom – after doing some reasonable accounting and justifiable bargaining – to part with their money, go on with their lives, enjoying their purchases or expenditures. Day after day, they worry if they got the ” best deal” and miserably berate themselves if they didn’t. Their energy and thoughts revolve around
pennies - instead of unconditionally embracing life.

Case in point – a participant in the Shabbaton who got lost on the way asked for a partial refund on the cost of the weekend because of extra money spent on gas. No doubt this person’s ability to have a good time was frustrated by a sense of financial loss.

Towards the end of the weekend, I saw both men and women with frowns etched on their faces. Again, they “didn’t meet anyone”. These people are also enslaved – by their relationships or lack of them. They can’t be happy unless they are “seeing somebody” and even then, they allow a lot of stress and distress into their lives.

These have not yet come to the realization that the key to one’s happiness doesn’t lie in a “significant other.” It lies within.

A comment I heard at the Shabbaton sums it up. “The only thing marriage cures is being single.” In other words, if you are an “unhappy camper” single, your problems won’t be fixed by marriage. You’ll just be a married unhappy camper and very likely make your spouse miserable.

You have to like yourself; you have to respect yourself first. It is very unlikely that a spouse can change you if you feel you are not worthy of being liked or respected. And you will sabotage any attempt to do so - without meaning to consciously.

Years ago, I heard a rather disturbing saying which I reflect upon from time to time. “Singles wish they were married, and the married wish they were dead.” This statement puzzled me until I realized that single people who are unhappy think marriage will resolve their woes. Once married, they see that nothing has changed and since their last hope for happiness – marriage – wasn’t the “magic pill” they were counting on, they “wish they were dead.”

Feeling good about yourself has to come from within yourself. Marriage isn’t a quick fix for what ails you. You need to like yourself in order to be happy – single or married.

How to feel good about yourself? Be a good sport when things don’t work out 100%. Don’t sweat the small stuff, especially the loss of relatively minor amounts of money that at the end of the day won’t affect your lifestyle. Look at the whole picture and appreciate the blessings you have. Taking them for granted cripples your ability to value and take pleasure in your day to day activities – like dressing yourself, feeding yourself, and climbing up stairs.

Most importantly, like yourself and be b’simcha. When your yetzer hara tries to make you critical of yourself – and hence others - remember – you are one of a kind, and G-d put you here because He felt you could improve the world by your existence. Hashem knows your value – it’s time you did as well.

There is a well known song with the lyrics: “When you smile, the world smiles with you.” Try it – it works!

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