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Happiness

Friday, 1 February, 2019 - 11:13 am

Happiness. Joy. Contentment.

We want all of these. And, at the end of the day, this very pursuit is what guides so many of our efforts and behaviors.

When you think about it, ‘happiness’ (to use a catch-all word) isn’t something you can purchase, and it’s not synonymous with pleasure; it’s a balanced state of inner wellbeing.

It’s also a tricky thing to achieve.

Yet, every year, we have the Hebrew month of Adar (this year, we have two of these months, Adar-a and Adar-b, since it’s a Jewish leap year), when we’re instructed to “increase Happiness.” How does that work? Where would I purchase it? How can I pro-actively get myself into a happy state?

Adar-a begins this coming Monday evening, so we’re fortunate that the Shabbos Torah reading actually provides us with insight into a formula:

1. We’re told to lend money, interest-free, to a person in need. This Mitzvah is about genuine empathy. Maimonides lists eight levels of charity and considers a loan to be the premium. Why? Because it preserves the recipient’s dignity and self-worth, since the person need not see himself as a ‘charity case.’ So while giving charity is a great Mitzvah the Torah is teaching us to go even further, by taking the effort to step outside our own [good] feelings and consider the recipient’s broader emotional needs. It’s not only about doing good, it’s about feeling the other’s pain.

2. If you see your enemy’s animal “suffering under its load,” the Torah tells you to assist the animal repeatedly. Imagine that: Someone has done you wrong, and is now in need. The Torah wants you to transcend your own [legitimate] hurt to acknowledge his - and his animal’s – pain. And lend a hand. Not easy, unless you can transcend your own resentments.

3. We shouldn’t bully anyone. But G-d singles out those who may feel specifically vulnerable and tells us “Don’t taunt a stranger…don’t cause pain to the widow or orphan…if you cause them pain I will heed their cry…”. Some people are in situations which make them more sensitive than others. Pay attention, because people’s feelings matter.

This brings us back to the joy of Adar: There’s no greater recipe for 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 the experience.

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

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