Tag Archives: joy

Freedom

Seven days shall you dwell in boothsLeviticus 23:42

… and you shall only be rejoicingDeuteronomy 16:15

Succos is the festival designated as the season of our gladness. Yet the commentaries state that one of the symbolisms of the succah, a temporary hut, is that we dwell in it for seven days to symbolize man’s temporary sojourn on earth for his average life span of seven decades (Psalms 90:10).

Human mortality is a rather sobering thought; it is hardly conducive to rejoicing. Most often we do not think about our mortality, and when circumstances force us to face it, we quickly dismiss it from our minds and go on acting as though we will live forever.

How different Torah values are from secular values! The Torah teaches us that there is an eternal life, a wholly spiritual life, whose bliss is far greater than the human mind can imagine. We are placed on this planet for our ephemeral earthly existence only to give us an opportunity to prepare for the eternal life.

The Torah teaches us to enjoy life, and if it restricts some pleasures, it is because we should enjoy life in a manner that befits a human being. Furthermore, our joy of living should not be diminished by the awareness of our mortality, nor need we deny it. The succah – the symbol of our temporary stay on earth – is beautifully decorated, and we enjoy our festive meals therein. Even our temporary existence can be beautiful and happy, and our faith in the eternal life should enhance that happiness.

Today I shall…

try to enjoy life as befits a spiritual person, knowing that the true life of man is not the fleeting one, but that of eternity.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 15”
Aish.com

Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.

-Will Smith, American actor

I probably take myself too seriously. Sometimes my wife tells me that. I know it’s certainly true of me in my “online persona.” I guess that comes from being a professional writer. Writing is what I do, so it’s important to me. It’s pretty much my first, best expression of who I am. Not that I’m perfect at it of course. But I don’t paint, and I don’t play music, and I’m not that good a public speaker, and I don’t dance worth anything, so I’ve got to have one way of expressing myself that’s better than all the others.

For me, that is writing. I’ve said before that writing this blog has a therapeutic aspect to it. It helps for me to pound out my thoughts and feelings, to “wear my heart on my sleeve,” so to speak. I can better describe how I feel and think about God, Jesus, Christianity, Judaism, and lots of other things when I write. Not that everyone will agree with me, but then, not everybody has to agree with me.

In this season of joy, during Sukkot, I need to be reminded about the difference between what’s real and important and what’s more or less beside the point. A lot of what happens online is beside the point. No, it’s not that I don’t take my writing seriously, and it’s not that I don’t take the people who I interact with online seriously, but beyond a certain point, I have to let things go.

Some people steal joy, as if joy were something you have and they don’t. As if joy were something they’ll never have and they can’t stand that you have some. They steal it, even if they can’t use it themselves, just so you can’t use it, either.

No one can do that to you unless you let them. In real life, it’s harder to combat, especially if the person stealing your joy is important to you, especially if it’s someone you love. While I get hurt by people I love sometimes, no one I love steals my joy. I’d probably let them if they wanted to, because I love them, but they don’t do it because they love me and they know that stealing joy is wrong.

Online, there are no end of people who steal joy. They may not think of it in those terms, but that’s the net result of their interaction with others. It’s easier to try to steal someone else’s joy online because you can’t see them and they can’t see you. You are depersonalized. They can’t see that they’re hurting you, and so, if they have no empathy, compassion, or grace, they don’t have to care if they’re hurting you. They can verbally harangue you, insult you, make fun of you, and feel well justified in doing so, because you aren’t even human to them. You’re just an anonymous “thing” that they can attack and defeat. I guess that’s what it takes to make themselves feel better.

You’d think that it would be easy to let go of someone like that online. All you have to do is pull the plug on whatever communication conduit they use to connect to you. Stop visiting their blog. Ignore or delete their comments on your blog or even block their IP address. But it’s not that easy. It’s like slamming the door in someone’s face. Even when they’re hostile, and even when they’re abusive, if you’re a decent human being, it still feels rude to (metaphorically) slam the door in their face.

Most hostile and abusive people are usually victims of some kind. Most bullies and trolls online have a history of being bullied themselves. I guess that’s why I put up with some folks as long as I do. I realize that even when they’re in your face, making demands of you, telling you what to do, that it’s really their defense against how hurt they are inside. They’ve never dealt with their pain and never resolved their conflicts. The only way they know how to live inside their own skin is to project all of their “stuff” onto others.

So I was dumb, and I was foolish. I (mentally) cut someone loose but let them back in because I thought maybe there was hope that, though we’d always disagree, we could disagree with a sense of mutual respect. I was taking a risk, but you have to do that sometimes. Sometimes it’s worth it. This time it wasn’t.

You can’t really hate a victim because in many ways, they just can’t help themselves. In order to feel powerful, they have to be hostile. These sorts of people, especially guys, mistake anger and aggressiveness for power, not realizing that true power isn’t hostile or aggressive at all. True power is love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, graciousness, and tenderness. Some people think the only power is intelligence, education, superiority, winning the argument, devastating twists of irrefutable logic, how well they halalachally perform a mitzvot. That’s the stuff they push in your face to show you that they’re not a victim, that they’re “winning,” that they’re better than you. Then they can feel better about themselves.

But they’ve missed the point. Paul was extremely clear about which gifts are more important. In fact, there’s one gift, one attribute that we can all possess and exercise if we choose to, that trumps all the rest.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

Really. Read that again. What is Paul saying? He’s not saying that “winning” in some Charlie Sheen fashion is the whole point. He’s saying that, even if you’re fabulous in speaking tongues, are an amazing prophet, even if you have faith that literally can move mountains, but you don’t have love, you have nothing.

GardeningLove is like a small, fragile, budding plant you nurture inside of you. If you don’t take care of it, the love will wither, and you will wither along with it. Love takes a lot of special attention but if you don’t care for the love inside of you, you’ll never be able to show it to others, especially those who really need to be loved. It almost seems paradoxical to say that in order to preserve your love, there are some people you have to let go. But those are the people who suck joy directly from your soul, murdering your love, blackening your heart, and damaging, not only you, but everyone around you who needs and depends on you.

Author C. JoyBell C. said, “You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” Sometimes toxic people are the weights that hold us down. And even if it feels like giving up on another human being, it’s better to let go of the weight so that you can rebound and fly, than to keep hanging onto it and letting it; letting that person drag you down into hostility, hopelessness, and despair along with them.

I hope and pray that my “toxic person” finds his way and learns to let go of his own unneeded weights, but he’ll have to learn love, the kind of love Paul was talking about, first. That’s something you can’t teach someone, especially against their will and especially if they equate humility, compassion, forgiveness, and love with being humiliated and being weak.

This is the season of joy. This is the time to rediscover love, love of your fellow person and love of God. To soar up to the source of our flame, we have to unburden ourselves sometimes. In order to fly, you have to break free from the people and things that hold you down.

“Woe to him who does not feel that this life and the next are but one!”

-Nikos Kazantzakis from his novel
“Zorba the Greek”

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Joy

Do you remember the thrill of hitting a home run? Getting out on the last day of school? Riding your new bicycle? You jump with joy. Fantastic!

Joy gives you energy and makes you feel great. You can achieve all kinds of things that otherwise may seem too difficult to attempt. With joy, you’re not afraid to talk to the guy sitting next to you on the plane. No problem! You’ve got energy, buoyancy. You’re alive!

True joy comes from the pleasure of growth and self-actualization – when we conquer a difficult challenge, or experience a moment of clarity.

When your team wins the World Series, or when you win the lottery, the joy is a delusion. Why? Because you did not change or grow.

Joy cannot result from events, from “good things happening to you.” Joy is solely the result of your reaction to life, your commitment to turning every moment into a growth experience. A new baby means you have to extend yourself at all hours of the day and night. That’s not easy. But if you focus – even at 3 a.m. – you’ll recognize this as real joy.

Do significant things and you will have more joy. If you are fighting for a cause, you are making an impact on the world. You are heavy. You are eternal.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #8, Constant Joy”
48 Ways to Wisdom
Aish.com

“Oh well,” he said after a moment. “Then I’ll dance, boss. Sit further away, so I don’t barge into you.”

He made a leap, rushed out of the hut, cast off his shoes, his coat, his vest, rolled his trousers up to his knees, and started dancing. His face was still black with coal. The whites of his eyes gleamed.

He threw himself into the dance, clapping his hands, leaping and pirouetting in the air, falling on to his knees, leaping again with his legs tucked up – it was as if he were made of rubber. He suddenly made tremendous bounds in to the air, as if he wished to conquer the laws of nature and fly away. One felt that in this old body of his there was a soul struggling to carry away this flesh and cast itself like a meteor into the darkness. It shook the body which fell back to earth, since it could not stay very long in the air; it shot it again pitilessly, this time a little higher, but the poor body fell again, breathless.

-Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba the Greek (1946)

Joy is usually an occasional or even rare event in our lives, not a constant companion. But then, how many of us could endure a constant state of joy, as if we were old Zorba, pushing our bodies to the limit, dancing and leaping and trying to defy gravity until we finally collapse on the ground exhausted?

Actually, this sounds like another “unlikely sage” I described last spring; Moshe the Shepherd, who also expressed unbounded joy with almost limitless energy.

Then he got up and said, “Master of the world, I’m just a simple shepherd; I don’t know any Torah, and I don’t know how to pray. What can I do for You? The only thing I know is to sing shepherds’ songs!” He then began to sing loudly and fervently with all his strength until, again, he fell to the earth, exhausted, without an ounce of energy.

-Yitzchak Buxbaum
“The Shepherd”
from his book, Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov
quoted from Chabad.org

It’s the day after Yom Kippur. Either you feel elated or depressed. Like Elaina Cline said, “I used to hate Yom Kippur. Every year, as we blew the shofar and rushed home to eat, I would secretly breathe a huge sigh of relief. It was finally over – all the misery, the moroseness, the fear – until next year.”

You can hate Yom Kippur. You can dread confronting the darkest side of your soul. Or you can take joy in the opportunity to realize that what is worst about you is not who you really are. You are really a soul full of joy, singing, leaping, striving to reach your Creator, and to dance with God.

God does not desire that we remain in our pit of mud, sorrow, and regret. He didn’t create us to simply suffer and cry. We must have joy; we must take joy in Him, in all that He’s done for us, for creating our life, for giving us ambition and purpose, for granting us wings so that we can fly.

What is G‑d’s ultimate delight?

That a human soul will build portals of light so that the Creator’s presence may shine into His creation.

That a breath from His essence will pull herself out from the mud and turn to Him in love.

That a child of His being, exiled to the shadows of a physical world, will discover that the darkness is nothing more than Father hiding, waiting for His child to discover Him there.

But none of these can reach to the essence of all delights, the origin of all things, the hidden pleasure beyond all pleasures: The delight that this breath, this soul, this child did it all on its own.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Ultimate Delight”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Sukkah in the rainSukkot is coming soon; a time to build and decorate, a time to eat, drink, and celebrate. Who better to invite to the party than God. How shall we call out to Him and express our joy?

“And my tongue will express Your charity. Your praise all day long.”

Psalms 35:28

The charity that King David was referring to was the kindness and charity that the Almighty bestowed on him. Out of gratitude and appreciation for this, King David would praise Hashem all day long.

Fulfillment of this one verse would guarantee a person a life of happiness and gratitude – an elevated and spiritual life.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“A Guarantee of Happiness”
Daily Lift #587
Aish.com

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Psalm 95:1-6 (ESV)

Although life is no bed of roses and we face our burdens and struggles every day, God is with us. He cares about us, and makes the way clear for us to approach Him, from the greatest to the smallest, all of His creatures. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Even in the midst of your troubles, count it all joy.

Shavua Tov, chodesh tov, and shana tova!

In Silence Like Sheep

Today’s daf discusses the halachos that apply to a person who has shamed his fellow Jew.

Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, was always careful to see the good in every Jew. Judging others favorably was part of his very nature. Another important characteristic of Rav Raphael was that he was always happy when embarrassed by others. To him, this was the biggest favor that one can receive from anyone. The Ramak, zt”l, writes in Tomer Devorah, that since being shamed is likened to being killed, one who is silent in the face of humiliation has atoned for all of his sins. Like dying, even the worst sins are wiped away if one endures disgrace quietly.

The Ramak adjures people to take this to heart. “Everyone falls short in one way or the other and requires atonement for his failings. What is better? To suffer pain and illness—which cause a person to lose precious time from learning—or to be shamed? Enduring humiliation is a matter of having the right attitude and truly understanding that the humiliation has saved him from much worse. If one achieves this understanding he will not hold it against the person who shamed him. On the contrary, he received a gift from the one who embarrassed him.”

When people would come to Rav Raphael about having endured shame, he would explain the greatness of enduring embarrassment and that this had saved the person much worse troubles. When the person was consoled, he would laugh with pure joy and say, “How wonderful!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Silent Atonement”
Arachin 14

Periodically, I experience some rather impassioned arguments happening in the comments sections of various blog posts. I don’t mind and even encourage spirited debate, but there were moments when that “spirit” crosses the line into insult and harm. We cannot behave like this as disciples of the Master and this is clear disobedience of his commandment for us to love one another (John 13:34). I know what it is to get a “head of steam up” in an argument and to lose sight of what I’m trying to express and why. In that moment, all that really seems to matter is to prove my point and to show “the other guy” that they are in error. Sometimes it may seem really is important to point out an error made in understanding our faith, but at what cost? Is it worth promoting resentment and division in the body of Messiah? Must we always have the loudest voice?

When reading the commentary on the Daf, I was immediately captured by how much this seems to describe Jesus. I doubt the author meant to create such a parallel, but for the Christian, it is unavoidable.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. –Isaiah 53:7 (ESV)

And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. –Matthew 26:62-63 (ESV)

How many of us would remain silent in such a situation? How many of us, even knowing what was at stake, would fail to vigorously defend ourselves against these unfair charges and attempt with all our might to avoid a death sentence and execution on the cross? And yet, in a way, we are commanded to do exactly that: to accept even death in silence, enduring everything for our Master’s sake.

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. –Matthew 5:39 (ESV)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” –Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Recall the commentary from today’s Daf which says that insulting someone is the same as murdering them (and I’ve written about this recently), and that enduring an insult in silence is as if you died and have atoned for all of your sins. I realize that Talmudic midrash is not to be taken as literal fact, but Jesus did endure his own murder in silence and in fact, his death did atone for the sins of the world. It’s all right there, if we’ll only pay attention.

We all like to say that we want to “be like Jesus.” For most of us, that doesn’t mean literally dying a horrible and torturous death for the sake of others, but it does mean enduring many insults for the sake of Christ. He even said this would happen to us.

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. –Matthew 10:21-22 (ESV)

So did James.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Can you see why the Jewish lens often illuminates the words of the Jewish Messiah, even without apparent intent? And yet there are those who are uncomfortable with the way I choose to view my Master, and some even insist that the Jewish perspective is not only worthless, but has long sense been wiped away and replaced by the singular and wholly “un-Jewish” Christian interpretation. However, I do not want even this point to be the cause of divisiveness between brothers in the Messiah. There is much value in offering consideration for one another for the sake of peace.

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

the-joy-of-torahAs a Christian, part of how I approach the ways of peace between me and Jewish people is to attempt to understand what Judaism means to a Jew, to the best of my meager ability. Taking joy in the Jewish people and in Judaism may be what the Jewish Messiah himself did as he gazed longingly at Jerusalem, anticipating the final salvation of Israel (Matthew 23:37-38). What he said began in sorrow and dismay, but will one day conclude in great happiness, as we see in the words of Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

This is the meaning of a Jew and Judaism, the very meaning of the word: To live in a state of sustained wonder. To know that there are things beyond human grasp. That the very existence of anything at all is beyond knowing. And then to strive to know.

Let us endure much in silence and humility for the sake of our brothers and for the Messiah, that we may one day know what is beyond knowing, and shout in brotherly joy at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

You are the God Who works wonders, You manifested Your might among the nations. With Your powerful arm You redeemed Your nation, the sons of Jacob and Joseph, Selah. –Psalm 77:15-16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)