Happiness, Not Comfort – Parshat Terumah 5773

“When Adar arrives we increase our happiness.” (Talmud, Ta’anit 29a) We have just entered the month of Adar beginning a season of joy and celebration that includes Purim and Pesach. I think it is pertinent to discuss how to actually achieve happiness.

There is a verse in Psalms (105:3) which states,  “Happy is the heart of those who seek G-d.”  Notice that the verse does not say   “Happy is the heart of those who have found G-d.” Rather, those that seek G-d are the ones who are happy. One way to understand this is found in the writings of the great 17th century Kabbalist from Safed, Rabbi Chaim Vital.  In the introduction to his book, Sha’arei Kedushah, he discusses four categories, or elements of existence: Earth, fire, wind and water. He associates sadness with the element of earth and he associates happiness with the element of wind.  Although I don’t understand the deeper Kabbalistic aspects of these associations, on a simple level, I think we can understand it in the following way.  Wind is only “wind” if it is actually moving, if it is not moving, it is not wind. So happiness, I believe is associated with movement, with progress and with growth.  Earth or soil is stationary, and people will often experience sadness and depression when they feel that they are standing still and stagnating. This is especially depressing when everyone else seems to be moving forward.  When a person is creating or building something, when a person is making progress, even if effort, pain and discomfort are involved, that person will be happy. I think that the more significant and meaningful the area in which they are making progress, then the greater the happiness. I remember speaking to one of my sons when he was doing basic training in the Israeli army and asking him (in retrospect, a stupid question) “Are you enjoying the training?” He responded,  “I’m not enjoying, and I’m not having fun, but I am happy.”

This idea is also hinted at in the words of the Sages.  The Talmud talks about two different types of measures; a level measure, (as in a level table spoon) and a heaping measure.  An overflowing, heaped measure is called a ‘mida socheket,’ – a “laughing measure,” and a level measure is called, ‘mida atzuva,’ a “sad measure.” My teacher, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro explained that the language of the Sages teaches us that when one is confined within a vessel, such as one’s past, that is where depression sets in. One’s life is a flat, level, sad measure.  When one is able to overflow beyond the limitations of one’s past, and go beyond the walls of the vessel, that will lead to happiness. One’s life is then an overflowing, heaping, laughing measure.

This is what the verse in Psalms is telling us. Become a seeker of G-d, make progress, improve yourself and don’t stagnate, and you will find happiness. Don’t seek comfort, because that may involve a lack of progress and stagnation. If you want to find happiness, seek growth and progress.  Happy is the heart of those who seek G-d.

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This week’s VLog is sponsored In honor of Rabbi and Mrs. Mordechai Suchard for the upcoming bar mitzvah of their son, Shlomo. Mazeltov. 

Drs. Moish and Robyn Lovinger

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