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Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Secret of Happiness

Sukkah 48

Who wants to be happy? J

There is no shortage of books available today on the topic of how to find joy and happiness in life.  Many people endure a lifetime of searching for that elusive key to happiness.  Can religion make me happy?

There were once two heretics called Happy & Joy. 
Happy said to Joy: I am better than you, [because I appear first] in the verse [in Isaiah] “They will achieve happiness and joy.” 
Joy said to Happy: I am better than you, [because I appear first] in the verse [in Esther] “The Jews had joy and happiness.”
Happy said to Joy: One day they will send you away and appoint you as a mere guide, as it says [in Isaiah] “For they will exit by joy.”
Joy said to Happy: One day they will send you away and fill water through you, as it says [in Isaiah] “You will draw water with happiness.”

In this obscure, comedic exchange, the Talmud teaches us the secret to finding happiness in life.

Firstly, if you’re looking for happiness, stop looking in the “Self-Help” section of the bookstore.  Heretics believe that life is about putting oneself first, with the illusion that ‘If I get ahead of the pack, then I will be happy.’  If everyone looks out for number one, nobody will be happy, because everyone will want to be in first place all the time, ignoring everyone else’s needs and wants.   

Instead, teaches the Talmud, the more you devote your life to helping others, the happier you will be.  As a baby, you knew that if you cried, you would be fed and nurtured.  As a child you screamed and threw a tantrum and got what you wanted.  But the older you get, the less you should be putting yourself first.  If you want a happy marriage, it means putting your spouse first.  If you want a joyous family, it means putting your children first.   And family is a model for life – the more you dedicate yourself to helping other human beings, the happier you will be.

Secondly, many people believe that the pursuit happiness should be their goal in life.  Happiness, says the Talmud, is not the endgame; it is merely a means to an end.  We should “exit with joy,” meaning that joy should be our guide through life.  If we are joyous, then all of life’s vicissitudes and challenges will become much more tolerable. 

What then is our ultimate goal in life?  It is the pursuit of spirituality.  We are here to make this world a place of G-d.  We achieve this higher purpose through Torah and mitzvos.  Torah is compared to water, as the prophet says, “Yo, all who are thirsty [for spirituality] go to the waters [of Torah].”

And so the third lesson of this Talmudic exchange is that the best way to “draw water,” i.e. fill your life with spirituality, is through happiness.  When we are joyous, we become vehicles for spirituality and we can transform and elevate the world. 

There is a common misconception that spirituality is designed to make us happy. Religion should be used as a crutch – it should be comforting and feel-good.   But that’s only true if religion is the means to achieving your ultimate goal of happiness. 

According to the Talmud, not only is such a notion heretical, but it’s mixed up.  Such a perspective confuses the means with the end.  Religion isn’t designed to make you happy.  It’s the other way around – happiness should be employed as a means to achieving your spiritual goals, as King David writes in Psalms, “Serve G-d with joy!”

A certain heretic called Happy once said to Rabbi Abahu: In the World to Come, you are destined to draw water for me, as the verse says “You will draw water with happiness.”
He responded: Had the verse stated “to happiness,” you’d be right.  The fact that it says “with happiness” [means that] the skin of such a person [as yourself] will be made into a flask and we will use it to fill water.

Our goal in life is not to be happy. Happiness is only a means to an end.  With happiness, one can soar to the greatest spiritual heights and bear the challenges life throws our way.  In the World to Come, we will enjoy spiritual delights, served to us on a platter made of all the vehicles that helped us reach our goal.  

If spirituality is the ultimate goal, wouldn’t we rather get there happily?  Smile!  It’s the first step on the road to G-dliness!  

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