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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

The Power of Human Interaction

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Four stories, four sets of relationships, four life lessons. In one short week from January 15-22, 2012, my world was altered forever by the stories, relationships and life lessons experienced on the Center for Jewish Future mission to help build an irrigating tilapia farm for the small Mexican village of Muchucuxcah.

My first story is about food and Cecelia, Maxamillia, Anastasia, Phenomelia, Porfafelia and Claudina, the ladies of the kitchen. All over the world, relationships are built around food. Although food is a necessity, the experience of preparing, presenting and eating the food creates a story that is unique to each culture. In Muchucuxcah, the food was prepared by the kitchen ladies. The food was spicy Mexican. But the story is not about the food but about the experience that surrounded the preparation of the food. The kitchen ladies dressed in the most beautiful and colorful hand made dresses and always presented themselves with smiles that stretched a mile wide. Although I could not speak their language, I managed to build a deep connection with them. We danced together, laughed together and exchanged numerous hugs every day. And I learned from these simple kitchen ladies about the power of gratitude and appreciation. It was truly amazing to see individuals who have so little but still manage to appreciate so much.

My second story is about love and courage and one of the children of the village. I was sitting on the ground taking pictures of the kids playing soccer when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a little girl in worn out clothing with a string in her hand. She asked me in Spanish, “Are you Susie?” to which I responded with a smile, “Yes, how did you know that?” She explained to me that she remembered me from our visit to her school the previous day. This brought tears to my eyes. In my broken Spanish, I asked her what her name was and she told me her name was “Rayena Yasmine.” I gave her a hug and asked her if she wanted to play with me. She pulled out her string and taught me a few tricks on my hand. I was humbled by courage of this eight year old Muchucuxcan girl who stepped out of her comfort zone to create a relationship with me, a 19 year old American girl. We played and laughed until I walked her home. Rayena Yasmine taught me about courage but also about the power of love to break down cultural, religious, racial and socioeconomic barriers.

My third story is about how achieving meaningfulness together with happiness and two modest Italians. One night, we met with Sigues Mundo and his wife, Angela, the directors and inspiration behind El Hombre Sobre la Tierra (HST), the non government organization (NGO) with which we worked. Sigues Mundo is Italian by birth but spent many years of his life traveling, volunteering in many countries in need and educating himself in the real life issues at play in the world. In 1994, he and his wife founded HST to “work with communities in Yucatán and Campeche to promote environmental sustainability and food self-sufficiency, advance the integration of women in the economy and strengthen the capacity of grassroots groups.” (visit ajws.org for more information).

Sigues Mundo is one of those inspiring people you may only meet one time in your life. He told our group that we each have a role in this world a – to lead a life that we love. It is our goal to find the thing that we love doing because only then will we reach our ultimate happiness and since happiness is contagious, we will then succeed in bringing happiness to others. Sigues Mundo loves helping people and loves learning about our world, so he created HST in order to live each day doing what he loves. And he taught me to dig deeply into my own consciousness and find what truly makes me happy. I learned that I love human interaction and I love children and with Sigues Mundo in mind, I am dedicated to leading a life interacting with children to bring meaning and happiness into their lives.

My final story is about the power of one and a man named Rodolfo. Rodolfo is a 30 year Mexican with a wife and a 2 year old daughter. He works for El Hombre Sobre la Tierra and dedicates his life to helping others. Everyday our group would arrive at the work cite and transport rocks with our bare hands from the forest to the area where the tilapia pond was going to be built. Around 2 hours into our work I would always find Rodolfo chiseling at the ground in attempt to extract a rock from deep within the soil.

Why Aren’t Americans Happy?

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The real question is “What is happiness?” We seem to be a very unhappy generation. Even when we say “This makes me happy”, “I am happy”, “I would be happy if you would do this”, “I will be happy to do that”, do we really mean happiness? Do we even know what happiness feels like?

Happiness comes from gratitude – something in life that demands gratitude would usually make us happy – which in essence makes the question “Where has the gratitude gone?” True gratitude can only come from being unburdened. The weight of being burdened doesn’t allow us to feel gratitude. So what is it that’s burdening us? We are carrying the weight of ourselves, of taking ourselves too seriously. Once we let go, it becomes possible to get in touch with those feelings of gratitude and happiness.

Now, why do we take ourselves so seriously?

Do I deserve?

By the way, the need to speak about happiness means that we’re not happy. If we were really happy we wouldn’t be talking about it. We would just be happy.

One of the reasons we take ourselves so seriously is deservedness. We are told, taught and constantly reminded that we deserve, that we are deserving. Where does this come from? Now, it is a virtue to think of others as deserving. When you see someone suffering you think “No! They deserve better than that”. But I’m not even sure what that means. You wish better for them but deservedness is really an unnatural and unhealthy concept.

In truth it’s not really a natural fact of life. In actuality we are given a hundred years of life for free. We are certainly not born deserving, yet God gives us life. Consequently we are indebted just by being born. However, we are also given a mission and a purpose. Acknowledging that fact gives us the right to ask God to provide us with the proper conditions to fulfill our job. But deservedness has got to go.

God is Good.

So the first thing that drains our happiness is this feeling of I deserve. Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t expect God to give us good things, great success and His great blessings. We certainly do expect it because God is generous and good and He has given us everything until now for free, so He will certainly continue to do so.

The problem starts when we have that feeling of entitlement, a feeling that we deserve. Because this feeling is too self-aware and too judgmental. Once we start trying to figure out “Am I getting as much as I deserve”, “Am I getting less than I deserve”, it becomes burdensome; and if “I’m getting more than I deserve”, that can be worrisome too. So the whole subject is really not worth getting into.

We don’t deserve, but we get because God is good.

Don’t Be Too Attached to the Physical.

One of the first tests that God put the Jews through when they left Egypt was asking them to follow Him in to a desert without giving them a chance to prepare food. The virtue that was tested was the ability to do without, to take our physical existence a little less serious. If we have physical comforts, great, if we don’t have – that’s fine too. He was looking for a sense of indifference, the ability to rise above and transcend the petty needs of the physical.

Unfortunately we are so attached to our physical needs that we have no time to be happy. Things have to be just perfect: the food has to be just so, the temperature has to be just right, we must have enough sleep, a second cup of coffee etc. We can’t function without them. We need to transcend some of that in order to be happy. So, to paraphrase, we need to focus on what we’re here for, and not what were here after.

Our Purpose.

Another thing destroying our happiness is doubt. When we’re not sure, when we are not certain, we can’t proceed with confidence and that takes away our joy.

We’re uncertain about so many things, and the list keeps growing. We’re not even sure if we belong on this planet or not. Are human beings welcome as part of nature? Or are we polluters just messing up the beauty of nature with our very presence?

So why are we here? We must have a particular purpose, a particular function that justifies our presence on this earth.

Not being certain as to what our identity is and what our purpose is, again, drains us of all enthusiasm and joy.

So we need to know clearly what we are here for.

Shame, Regret, Guilt.

The final culprit draining the happiness out of our lives is guilt. We don’t know what to do with it; we don’t know how to handle it.

Shabbat: A Time for Menuchah V’simcha

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I remember going to shul with my mother and always being slightly puzzled when we left to go home after the tefillot. My mother would wish and be wished a Shabbat Shalom, but she always added something extra that left all who encountered her with smiles on their faces. She would compliment everyone she met with something personal. It might be about the clothes they wore, the inspiring way they davened, or a comment on the wonderful behavior of their children during the prayer service.

I remember asking my mother why she always felt the need to do this. She replied that while it didn’t cost her anything imagine how those few words of recognition would add to someone else’s Shabbat joy.

My brother Yehudah, a”h, would emulate my mother’s trait. He would add his own personal touch – in a literal way. He would put his arm on a burdened shoulder, and tell a joke to leave yet another person with a smile on his face.

There are many other ways to make someone feel special and noticed, and thus add to their good feelings on Shabbat. For example, there are people who make note of someone who did not come to shul on a particular Shabbat. These absentees would either receive a surprise visit that day, or a phone call after Shabbat, or even a mention of having been missed the week before when the next Shabbat arrived. I have been the recipient and doer of such an act of chesed.

A few weeks ago, I lit my Shabbat candles with a heavy heart. I had received some difficult news about someone I care about, and found that I was just not in the mood for Shabbat. What a terrible feeling! Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Three little children stood there with a paper bag in hand. “For Shabbat,” they said, as they shyly proffered the warm bag. I looked inside and found freshly baked challah, an unexpected gift from a neighbor. Suddenly, my Shabbat looked so different to me. I was able to find the joy of Shabbat in this small gesture of kindness.

When I encountered my neighbor the next day, I told her how her challah had not just added to the ta’am of Shabbat in a physical sense, but it had also returned to me the very essence of the true taste of Shabbat.

Shabbat is a time of menuchah, of rest. It is also a time of simcha, of happiness. We are often too busy during the week to stop and think about how we can do something simple to bring simcha into someone else’s life. When we can combine the menuchah of Shabbat together with its inherent simcha, we can bring ohr laYehudim, light to all of us.

New Olim Are Country’s Hanukah Present

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Just prior to the start of Hanukah, 76 new immigrants from North America added light and happiness to the country, landing at Ben Gurion International Airport.

Seventy-six new immigrants from North America infused Israel with the light of Zionism by celebrating the first night of Hanukkah as new Israeli citizens.

The new Israelis were provided support by Nefesh b’Nefesh.

Caring For Bubbie – A Privilege

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

My mother lives with me and needs a great deal of attention, as do my four children. It seems as if everyone is pulling at me at once, and I don’t know in which direction to turn first. All this stress has definitely affected my mental and physical health. I suffer from backaches and stomach trouble and lack the patience necessary to be a good wife and mother.

My husband feels the best solution might be to place my mother in a retirement home, but I find the prospect very painful. I don’t think I could live with myself if I did that.

My friends tell me I am a fool and should learn to think of myself rather than allow others to take advantage of me. There are times I am tempted to follow their advice and run off someplace by myself and forget everything.

My Dear Friend:

Many of us, when confronted by difficulties, daydream of flying to some distant land where we can forget all our problems. However, reality dictates there is no escape – for no matter how high or far the plane flies, eventually it must land with the same cargo that was loaded aboard. Therefore, rather than indulging in fantasy, let us try to resolve your problem in a constructive manner.

The greatest joy one can experience comes from being part of a loving family. But as with all gifts, this happiness comes at a price. For example, if you love someone and that person is hurting, you will feel his or her pain, and if you are unable to alleviate the suffering, your anguish will be even more intense. Therefore, I understand your agony over your mother’s infirmity and her inability to care for herself, but I cannot see why you should feel a conflict between caring for her and your children.

To honor and revere your mother is not your responsibility alone, but must be shared by your husband and children as well – and children are never too young to learn that responsibility. To revere, love and care for Bubbie is their privilege and should never be regarded as a burden. Not only should you enlist their aid in being attentive to your mother’s needs, you should make them understand how blessed they are to have a Bubbie living with them. It is a zechus, a great merit, to ease the pain of a grandparent, to divert her with a story or a song and to bring a smile to her face.

One of the outstanding women in Jewish history was Serach, the daughter of Asher. She lived for many centuries, and in the days of King David was renowned as Isha Chachama – the Wise Woman. Why was she granted this awesome honor? What was unique about her? Why was she so special?

She would comfort her Zeyda, the patriarch Jacob, by singing to him and offering words of consolation and hope. “Od Yosef chai” — “Joseph still lives” – she would sing again and again after Jacob was shown Joseph’s bloody coat. It was for having performed this great mitzvah of honoring and comforting her grandfather that she was granted her incredible longevity and wisdom.

Not every family has the merit of caring for elderly grandparents, so instead of resenting the mitzvah, teach your children to embrace it with love.

Long after your mother is called by G-d, your children will remember those special years when Grandma was part of their lives, and that is a treasure no one will ever be able to take from them. The best way to train children is through example. If you wish your children to feel the joy of the presence of their grandmother, then you and your husband will have to show them the way. Through your attitude you will have to demonstrate that to care for your mother is a privilege you wouldn’t barter for anything in the world.

Once you make your children active participants in this family responsibility, their resentment will disappear. Instead of feeling put upon, they will feel honored and want to give of themselves, and through that giving they will become better people. And one day, when old age catches up with you and your husband, your children will remember the love you showered on their Bubbie and, with G-d’s help, will impart the same to you.

As far as your friends are concerned, don’t let their opinions bother you. They are just parroting the meaningless words in vogue nowadays: “Think of your own happiness; don’t let anyone take advantage of you.” Can honoring one’s parents be regarded as being taken advantage of? What happiness can you have if your mother is hurting? Do your friends imagine you are a machine without a conscience who can simply block your mother out of your heart and mind?

Now, I do not minimize the sacrifice that is demanded of you, but we are a nation that has lived by these sacrifices – parents living for their children, and children, in turn, living for their parents. That’s what life is all about. Giving. The bottom line remains: if you inspire your family to join you in honoring Bubbie, that which at first glance seemed to cause a conflict will act as a catalyst to unite your household.

I can assure you that Bubbie will forever be enshrined in the hearts of your children as a legacy of love.

A Sefer With A Difference

Thursday, April 14th, 2011




   Since the invention of the printing press, thousands of books have promised to contain the secret to life’s most elusive goal: happiness. In the secular world, they call them self-help books, but in our world, we know that the Torah view is the place to look for answers.

 

   But with so many out there, which one to choose? My suggestion is Stop Surviving Start Living by Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier. It’s a hashkafa  book with a difference.

 

   What makes Stop Surviving Start Living so unique? Its tone. Written in accessible language, it reads like a casual conversation with a friend – except this conversation is deceptively deep and spiritual.

 

   Thematically, I would divide the book into three sections. The first is about happiness. Does more money equal more happiness? If not, where can I find it? The answer – all around you. Just open your eyes.

 

I’d classify the next section as “spiritual psychology.” What is the neshama? Why do we need a yetzer hara? Lest you think you’ve heard this from other sources, I urge you to read the chapter called “The Princess and the Peasant” for its literary quality alone.

 

   Last, Rabbi Shafier takes on the issue most of us would prefer to avoid: death. “Is death depressing?” he asks. Not when you read what he has to say about it. Between the story of a cancer survivor, the medically documented account of a woman’s near-death experience, and a mussar exercise I won’t dare spoil for you, the final chapters left me soaring.

 

   Anyone familiar with the shmuz.com knows what makes Rabbi Shafier’s message so effective. For change to work it has to speak to us. If it seems too lofty, too complex, too daunting, we might begin with the best of intentions, but eventually, we give up.

 

   When mussar addresses life as we know it and manages to be entertaining besides, then that’s a recipe for success. Stop Surviving Start Living is short enough to be finished in a few hours, engaging enough to keep you reading, and most of all, spiritual enough to move your soul.

 

   To obtain this book, contact www.theshmuz.com or call 866-613-TORAH.

Why Psychology & Marriage Therapy Fails

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Statistically, about half of all couples marrying this year will see their marriage end in divorce. For couples undergoing marriage therapy, surprisingly or perhaps not surprisingly, the rates of divorce are no different about one-half will suffer divorce.[1]

Does marriage therapy help? Unfortunately, the answer is “Not much.”

Husband and wife arrive at the psychologist (counselor or therapist) for marital therapy. The psychologist attempts to make both happy, a sort of 2 for 1 deal which rarely works. Counseling is individual oriented with the specific objective of helping the individual find happiness. The marital counselor is caught in a Catch-22: facing two dissimilar individuals, suffering together, both seeking to find happiness. Unfortunately, the therapist has no common framework in which to offer help.

In psychology’s happiness-based weltanschauung, marriage is a means, not an end – and, as a result, lacks any valid reason to assume permanence. Marriage may have been the answer for such a couple seeking happiness 4, 5 or 10 years ago, when they were in love and dreamed of spending the rest of their lives together, but what about now? They’re different. People do change after marriage. What guarantees their compatibility or love 5, 10 or 20 years after celebrating their marriage? If marriage will increase their happiness, then, psychology advocates marriage. But if, say, 10 years later, marriage fails to offer them the same happiness, then, psychology may well advocate ending the marriage. Marriage therapy and counseling notoriously fail owning to their explicit “happiness focused” paradigm.

Marriage demands effort; there are no shortcuts. It’s not always easy working on oneself, overcoming personality imperfections and becoming a better person. It’s much easier to blame one’s spouse, indulge one’s failings by quitting and simply trading in the old model for a newer one. And that’s exactly what occurs in half of American marriages today. Marriage has become disposable, expendable; a temporary means serving a goal of individual happiness rather than being a hallowed end, worthy of sacrifice.

This “happiness” malady is well bred into the American psyche. The Declaration of Independence guarantees our “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Beyond the clichés, while the Declaration of Independence guarantees one’s right to the pursuit of happiness, it fails miserably to guarantee finding happiness.

In contradistinction to the American ideal of inalienable rights, self-evident truths, manifest destiny and the pursuit of happiness, the Torah lists 613 commandments. In place of freedoms and rights, the Torah places obligations – lots of them. We eat only kosher, dress modestly, pray three times a day, fast when we want to eat and eat marror when Hashem says to. We refrain from work on Shabbos and live according to the Laws of Family Purity and Chazal state “Only he who submerges himself in Torah is truly free.”

Marriage, according to Judaism, is an end, not a means. Marriage is the ideal state of humankind; human perfection is attained only through marriage. Improving one’s marriage brings him or her closer to Hashem. “It is not good for man to dwell alone. I will create for him a helpmate beside him.” Life challenges. Marriage challenges and people find happiness by overcoming challenges. The Hebrew word nisayon translates, not as difficulty but as challenge – based upon the word nes, which means to elevate.

Marriage succeedswhen it is viewed as permanent and husband and wife are absolutely dedicated to their marriage’s enhancement. The Torah’s many teachings clearly depict marriage’s importance and permanence.

In a Jewish wedding ceremony, the man gives a wedding ring to the woman and through this act consecrates her as his wife. In Jewish Law, the monetary transaction of acquiring a wife is learned out from a monetary transaction in a different Biblical verse with similar syntax; dealing with Avraham’s purchasing Machpela from Ephron the Hittite. It seems odd that acquiring a wife is learned from buying a burial plot for one’s wife who had just died? Death annuls the marriage bond. Avraham’s crying for, eulogizing and burying Sara followed her death when they were no longer married!

This is exactly the lesson! All that Avraham did following Sara’s death showed that their bond continue to exist even after death. Marriage creates a permanent bond between husband and wife, beginning in this world and continuing in the World to Come. Unlike other monetary (chattel) transactions, which are passed on to inheritors, the bonds of marriage are not only in the physical realm but in the binding of the souls – the nefesh, ruach andneshama of husband and wife. This permanence of bonding can be learned specifically from Avraham’s purchasing Machpela – which is where Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka and Yaakov and Leah are resting. The Talmud shows that the bond created under the chuppah remains forever.

The Torah perspective on the permanence of marriage even after death leaves no room for doubt. The Torah places special emphasis on spousal burial together after death. When Pharaoh met Yaakov, Pharaoh was astounded at how aged Yaakov looked and asked how old he really was. Yaakov answered Pharaoh that his days were few and troubled. Yaakov suffered greatly during his life: dealing with the treacherous Lavan, the evil Esau, Rachel’s premature death giving birth to Binyamin, his daughter Dina’s abduction and violation by Shechem, Yosef’s disappearance, Shimon and then Binyamin being taken into captivity by the Egyptian viceroy and yet only once does the Torah give witness to Yaakov being driven to tears. When he first met Rachel, he “raised his voice and wept” because he saw prophetically that, while he would marry Rachel, he would not be buried with her.” Only this sorrow broke Yaakov, his inability to spend eternity next to his wife, Rachel.

Lavan merited that the Twelve Tribes trace their lineage to Rachel, Leah, Bilha or Zilpah, all his daughters because he exclaimed “[this match of Rivka to Yitzchak] is from Hashem”. He was the first person to verbalize that matches are the work of Hashem.

Jewish marriage, and by extension, marriage counseling or therapy must be based on the eternity of marriage and the singular unity of husband and wife. The goal is successful marriage; the client is the marriage, not either spouse. Husband and wife must be educated to make their marriage the best possible. When marriage rests on sound footing, both marriage partners find contentment, happiness and joy. For these reasons, I named my first book on marriage, Together We Are One – Making Marriage Work opening with the words of the Ramban, “And they [the children and grandchildren of Yaakov that went down to Egypt] were seventy souls and their wives were not counted [separately], for a man [together] with his wife are one.”

[1]Lee Baucom PhD. “Save the Marriage”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/why-psychology-marriage-therapy-fails-2/2011/02/03/

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