Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Secret To Serenity

The world around us pursues happiness, yet like an animal trying to catch its own tail it eludes them. People spin about dizzily, going in circles, as they seek to make themselves feel happy by escaping reality with artificial stimulants. In an attempt to find joy and fulfillment people become addicted to artifice to escape the sad reality of a vacuous life. Their goal eludes them and all they achieve is a lethal habit. The concept is so simple, the pursuit is so universal, yet, for so many, it is so unattainable. We recognize that fact as we note the Shulchan Aruch, the guide of our lives, obligates us to be joyous during the month we usher in this week. When Chazal make a statement of fact, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha” (Taanis 29a), they are saying that simcha, that elusive destination, is not a utopian dream attainable only by the elite and very rich. Happiness is within the reach of every Jew, and thus they instruct us to increase our joy during the month of Adar.

The language of Chazal is a bit troublesome. “Mishenichnas Adar, as the month of Adar enters,” they say, “marbin besimcha, we increase our happiness.” What does it mean to increase happiness? To what extent are we to do so? Why the ambiguous language?


Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler teaches that simcha cannot come from a quick fix. It is a goal that is attained through contemplation and hard work.


Simcha has to be increased in levels… Therefore, we begin from Rosh Chodesh, since the avodah of simcha requires great preparation, and we continue with this avodah each succeeding day,” (Michtov M’Eliyahu II, pg. 125).


The attainment of simcha requires working to shed the barriers that prevent a person from feeling joy. Simcha requires a focus on tikkun hamiddos in order to become selfless and non-judgmental, and to avoid being consumed by jealousy of others.


Reaching simcha means living with the words of the Chovos Halevavos so that you become imbued with the bitachon necessary to survive and flourish in a cruel world. Shaar Habitachon in the Chovos Halevavos is essentially a guide to help us traverse the turbulence we encounter. Its study reinforces the understanding that our ability to succeed and navigate the minefields which inevitably arise is based on the degree of faith we maintain in the Borei Olam. If we realize that all that transpires is caused by a benevolent Father in Heaven, then we look at the world, and ourselves, differently.


The “if-only” syndrome – if only I had those shoes I saw advertised, if only I had a house on the beach in Miami, if only I had a thousand dollars in my wallet – must be banished. The feeling that your life is incomplete without the attainment of something you don’t really need is akin to a child crying bitterly until he receives a lollipop. His life is really as complete now as it was prior to his receiving the candy. The lollipop provides a momentary lift only to be quickly forgotten. Transient objects which are craved to stimulate happiness never fail to disappoint. However, their affect is fleeting, quickly disappearing; all they can accomplish is to mask over some inner need and can not provide lasting fulfillment which engenders true simcha.


True happiness emerges from internal satisfaction that is brought about through strength and conviction. It is not superficial. It comes from a strong constitution and immune system equipped to withstand spiritual and emotional battles. One who is strong mentally and physically can make do without the band-aids, and to one who is weak, the band-aid is of little use. True strength is acquired through emunah and bitachon.


The baal bitachon experiences happiness and serenity that escape others. A baal bitachon rejoices in his friends’ successes and does not become embittered when his own ambitions are not realized the way he would have wanted. He is not encumbered by jealously and petty personal grievances. Despite temporary defeats, he is able to view the entire picture and comprehend that all that happens is for the good.


In fact, it is this acceptance that serves as motivation for him to succeed. Understanding that the world is controlled by Hashem permits the baal bitachon to joyously accept what comes his way. It enables him to manage his fears and emotions in a productive manner and erase the pain inherent in the failure of achieving his ambitions.


Adar is the month of happiness, leading into the month of geulah, but in order to achieve the aspiration of simcha, we must engage in the process of marbim besimcha. Step by step, we have to increase our cognizance of the truths of life, so that we grow and develop the ability to be truly joyous.


The Shechinah doesn’t rest on a person who is unhappy and depressed. In order to make ourselves worthy of properly understanding Torah and interpersonal relationships, we have to undertake to climb the ladder which leads to simcha. Through that resolve, we will improve ourselves and our avodas Hashem, making us better and happier people.


This mandate is relevant every day, but especially during the month when we are commanded to be happy. We would be repulsed to see someone dancing joyously to loud music and eating meat at the beginning of the month of Av. Similarly, if we see someone unhappy when chodesh Adar arrives, we should know that something is amiss.


The Rambam in his introduction to Sefer Hamada [pg 21, Frankel edition] writes that the reason Chazal instituted the reading of the megillah on Purim is to notify the future generations that “emes hu,” the words of the posuk are true. The posuk [Devorim 4, 7] states, “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim kerovim eilav, kaHashem Elokeinu bechol koreinu Eilov.” The posuk is correct in assuring us that this great nation has a G-d Who is close to it and Who is there whenever we call out to Him.


Why does the Rambam need to underscore that the posuk is reality? It’s a posuk, after all. Of course it is real. How could we even contemplate otherwise?


Perhaps the proper understanding is that the story of Purim demonstrated that at every juncture and at each stage of the unfolding tale, there was a Divine agenda, prodding circumstances towards a happy ending. Though not evident until the story reached its culmination, every occurrence, as sad as it appeared, was a facet of a plan leading to redemption.


Seemingly random incidents and facts, such as Vashti’s brazenness, the search for a new queen, Mordechai’s knowledge of foreign languages, and even the month during which Achashveirosh married Esther, were all details in a gradual, measured march towards salvation.


Bechol koreinu eilov.


Bechol koreinu, no matter what our situation is, we cry out “eilov,” to Hashem. Everything that transpires brings us closereilov,”to Him.As the Jews of Shushan watched the goings-on, they felt as if the world was closing in on them and that they were doomed to destruction and defeat. In fact, the opposite was true. They had sinned at the feast of Achashveirosh and were therefore marked for “kloyah,” annihilation (Megillah 12a), but because Hashem pitied them and heard their tefillos, bechol koreinu eilov,” anytime we call out to Him He answers.


Mordechai rallied the Jews of the time and they cried out, fasted and did teshuvah, so Hashem had the tragedy bring about a return of the Jewish people “eilov,” to Him.


Ana Bechoach is a special acrostictefillah composed by Rav Nechunya ben Hakanah. It is recited every morning together with the korbanos and on Friday evening prior to Lecha Dodi. The tefillah asks Hashem to accept the prayers of Klal Yisroel and concludes by stating, “Shavoseinu kabel ushema tzaakoseinu yodei taalumos.” We ask Hashemto accept our shouted prayers, as He knows secrets.


The question is obvious: If we say that we are crying out to Hashem, why do we then add that He should hear us because He knows all the secrets?


Because He knows all the secrets and how the travails will end in salvation, we ask that he hear our prayers and bring about the reprieve which he has planned faster, with less pain and aggravation.


Bechol koreinu eilov.


Along with thousands of others, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach and his family found refuge in Vilna during the period leading up to the Second World War. While in Vilna, he had developed a relationship with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky.


During his stay there, his 14-year-old daughter, Miriam Raizel, passed away from a lung condition from which she had been suffering. Rav Shach was devastated.


At the time, Rav Chaim Ozer was old, weakened from the illness which would claim his life and virtually bedridden. He was unable to be menachem avel the Shach family as they sat shivah. A short while later, Rav Shach went to vist Rav Chaim Ozer, who had himself experienced the loss of his only daughter. The aged gaon looked at the young rosh yeshiva he had come to know, appreciate and love. Though Rav Shach didn’t mention his daughter’s passing, Rav Chaim Ozer saw the pain in his eyes. Sensing what he was going through, he told him to take a seat.


After an extended silence, the rabbon shel kol bnei hagolah said a few words that Rav Shach would carry with him for the rest of his life. He told him, “Rav Shach, lulei sorachcha sha’ashuoy oz ovadeti be’onyi.Without Torah, I wouldn’t have been able to go on.”


Those words were to become Rav Shach’s mantra.


Many years later, some rabbonim went to visit Rav Shach on the day of his daughter’s yahrtzeit. He spoke about his daughter and repeated what Rav Chaim Ozer had told him. And then he explained what he thought Rav Chaim Ozer meant.


He related that it is analogous to two prisoners who were jailed under horrendous conditions. They were both understandably miserable, yet one managed to smile from time to time and make conversation with others. The other one was bitterly morose. He looked miserable and acted even worse.


The difference was that one knew that he was nearing the completion of his sentence and would soon be free. While he was suffering terribly, knowing that he would soon be a free man gave him the strength to smile. The second prisoner had a life sentence with no hope of ever getting out alive. He was emotionally destroyed and could never bring himself to smile or interact socially ever again.


Rav Shach explained that without Torah, when tragedy strikes, a person loses his equilibrium and ability to go on. He becomes overcome with pain and sadness and finds it impossible to function. One who learns Torah is blessed by the “pikudei Hashem mesamchei leiv.” But it is more than that. One who learns Torah, one who is mesha’ashei’ah in Torah, becomes suffused with the knowledge that Hashem maintains Hashgocha Protis on everything in this world. When he is hit by tragedy, he doesn’t lose himself, for he knows that what happened to him was brought about by a loving Creator for a higher purpose.


The world is spinning out of control. Every day brings with it more ominous news. People have many tzaros. They wonder why they suffer from illness, children not turning out the way they dreamt, parnassah, tuition bills, shidduchim and so much more. They wonder why they are being challenged. Why me? Why is this all happening? What is the purpose? How will it all end?


Lulei sorachcha sha’ashuoy oz ovadeti be’onyi.


Emes hu.


We must remember that it is true. Bechol koreinu eilov. We can be comforted by the knowledge that if we cry out, if we return eilov,we will live to see the purpose in all the sadness that we experienced. We will experience the joy of seeing the circle come together and the pieces of the puzzle fitting together and creating a picture of relief and simcha.


May it occur speedily for all who need yeshuos and refuos. May we all have much nachas from our children, financial prosperity, and stability. Let’s keep on davening for the Jews in Eretz Yisroel under threat of war, for everyone from Yosef Sholom ben Chaya Musha to Sholom Mordechai ben Rivkah, and for the geulah hasheleimah vehakrovah. Amein.


Adar is finally here. Let’s all be happy.



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