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Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Torah's Tips for Happiness


The search for that ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ is what guides so many of our efforts and behaviors. We all want it.

As we mature, we begin to recognize that ‘happiness’ is not something you can purchase and it’s not synonymous with pleasure; it’s a state of being. We also begin to realize that it isn’t an easy thing to achieve.

So how do we approach the Hebrew month of Adar (beginning this Sunday), when “increasing Happiness” is the theme? I can’t just command myself into Happiness; I need to get there in an authentic way. How?

One might say that the Torah gives us a formula in this week’s Torah reading, in which we have some clear directives:

1.      Lend money, interest-free, to people in need. Torah finds great value in giving to the disadvantaged. But, in a way, lending money is even greater. With a loan, as distinct from a gift, the recipient’s dignity and self-worth is more easily preserved; the person need not feel like a ‘charity case.’ The Torah’s teaching kindness with empathy. Even if you’re giving to someone, which is a beautiful Mitzvah, take the opportunity to step outside your own [good] feelings and consider recipient’s feelings beyond his needs.

2.      If you see your enemy’s animal “suffering under its load,” the Torah tells us to repeatedly help the animal. Interestingly, the Torah calls it your ENEMY’S animal. So someone has done you wrong, yet G-d still wants you to recognize his problem (and the animal’s pain). G-d wants us to transcend our world of self-interest to help, even if it’s people we have good reason not to like.

3.      There’s a special additional reading on this Shabbat, which tells of the Mitzvah for each Jew to donate half a Shekel to the communal offering fund. For this ‘fundraising’ drive, no one gave more and no one gave less than that amount. It wasn’t just about amassing the funds, it was about participating as part of the larger community.

The message seems clear: There’s no greater avenue to happiness than stepping out of your own self-interest. Devote effort to something outside of, or larger than, yourself, and you’ll be refreshed by the beauty of your encounter.

It’s Adar. Give yourself a reason to be happy!


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