Happiness for Life
Delighting in the Ordinary
This week’s Torah reading describes the exciting moment of when the
Jews were finally freed from Egypt. We can only imagine the great excitement which filled their hearts upon this momentous occasion. The Alter of Slabodka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, points to a statement given by Moses which seems to be quite odd, given the circumstances. Moses addresses the nation and says to them (13:3-4), “Remember this day on which you went out of Egypt… Today you are going out in the month of the spring.” Rashi explains that Moses was directing them to take note of the kindness God has bestowed upon them for arranging their exodus to take place in a month of optimal weather conditions. Not hot, not cold and not rainy. The question we ought to ask is: Did these people really care for the weather conditions at that moment? These people suffered enslavement and torture for two centuries, and now is the moment that they are finally set free; the last thing to be on their minds would be the weather!
The Alter draws from here a most profound insight. Yes! The Jews were expected to pay attention to the weather specifically at this time and enjoy it! Despite the extreme ecstasy they were feeling in light of their liberation, they were not to overlook this minor detail. In fact, it was precisely then, as they were full of joyous excitement over their freedom that it was important to teach them this vital lesson. As they were becoming an independent nation, a nation dedicated to serving God, one of the first principles to be taught to them is the element which will keep them thriving; that which will truly give them a happy life. Momentous occasions which bring upon delight and induce happiness are relatively few in a person’s life. Even the great jubilant feelings they felt during their liberation were bound to subside and be forgotten before long. Continuous, wholesome happiness, comes from appreciating the small details in life. Focusing on the seemingly trivial and common pleasures in life is the only way for one to advance through life with an upbeat state of mind. Moses was teaching them that, granted, their liberation from Egypt is a source of great celebration, however, the real way to enjoy life, is by paying attention to ordinary pleasures, like the beautiful weather.
Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer was a Holocaust survivor, the only one left from her family. She lived in poverty, and never managed to have children of her own. Despite this, she was always a cheerful person. One time, a group of women came to seek the blessings of her husband, Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Kramer, for their various needs. While the group was sitting with the rebbitzen she took note of their gloomy mood and said, “Don’t worry. You will each get the blessing for which you came.” One of the ladies asked in turn, “But how can we remain happy in the meantime, until the blessings are fulfilled?” The rebbitzen could not grasp the question. “How do you remain happy? How can you not be happy?! You have eyes, you have ears and you have legs. What room is there to be lacking in joy?”
Perhaps there has never been a generation which could make use of this lesson as much as ours. People are constantly seeking new ways to thrill themselves. Advertisements and advances in technology lure us into fantasizing about ‘surreal experiences’ which we long to taste. For the most part, we are left distracted from appreciating that which we already have, and our dreams of attaining more excitement leave us with an empty feeling. At the same time, our life style nowadays includes so many conveniences to take pleasure in, more than ever! Running water, electric appliances, an abundance of food in so many varieties, furniture, comfortable housing… the list doesn’t end. And of course, there are also all the pleasures which have always been around. Our five senses, relationships, the weather, and so on and so forth. If we manage to choose just one ordinary pleasure to focus on, to really delve into the pleasure it contains and get accustomed to delighting in it, we will be amazed to find how energizing the feelings induced by this practice will be.
Parshas Vayetzei 5780/2020
email@example.com by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber