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What is True Happiness?

Friday, 4 September, 2015 - 12:47 pm

This week's Torah portion Ki Tavo opens with a discussion of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, the First Fruits. Upon the ripening of the first fruits of the season  a farmer would fill a basket with the ripened fruits and bring them to the Temple in Jerusalem, and offer them as a gift to the Kohen, to declare thanks to G-d for His goodness.

Bringing the Bikkurim was, first and foremost, a celebration of all the gifts the farmer received from G-d. It is interesting, that for the first several years in Israel, there were no Bikkurim. It only began after every Jew had finished building his home and property. Why? A Jew can not celebrate if his friend is still not at the finish line. How could he fully rejoice when he knows that his brothers are still without a home and field of their own? They may be in a different tribe, in the other side of the country, but they are part of him; their fulfillment is his own!

We are one nation, one family, and we are all in this together. If just one person, whoever it may be, remained unfulfilled, and unsatisfied, then we too, are incomplete. Their triumphs are our triumphs, their losses are our losses, and their struggles are our struggles. For me to win, I need them also to win.

During the 2012 Summer Olympics, a young Jewish gymnast by the name of Aly Raisman rocketed to fame and public affection for her incredible gold-winning floor routine set to the frenetic violin strains of Hava Nagillah. She went on to captain the US team to another gold, in addition to other medal-winning performances. The New York Post dubbed her ‘The Star of David ’. But what was undoubtedly one of the most memorable parts of the Aly Raisman story was a wildly popular video circulating the internet , not of her routine, and not even of Aly herself, but of her parents, sitting in the bleachers, watching her in competition. ‘Anxious’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. They are gripping their seats, wracked with white-knuckled tension. The mother barks encouragement that her daughter is surely unable to hear; they sweat, wince, and grimace with every difficult step, instinctively following Aly’s every move with their bodies, leaning so far left and right they almost fall off their seats. When the set is complete, their relief is palpable. Her father wipes his face, and literally lets out a yell of relief.

Not too many of us here have Olympic gold-medalist children, but who can’t relate? Which parent doesn’t feel their heart almost burst with pride when their child kicks home the winning goal in a soccer match, or when their daughter recites the whole Ma Nishtana by heart?

The Torah is teaching us , the  Jewish People are a family. Since we are all one, if you lose, then so do I, and in order for me to win, you must also. We are in this together.

How does one achieve such a consciousness? Interestingly, this week coincides with the 18th day of Elul, the birthday of two of the great thinkers and leaders in the history of our people.  The Baal Shem Tov (in 1698), founder of the Chassidic movement, and his spiritual heir, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, (in 1745), the founder of Chabad.

The theme of Jewish Unity has a prominent place in Judaism, and even in Jewish Law: “All of Israel are guarantors for one another”

These are powerful, beautiful, statements, reminding us of our responsibilities towards our fellow Jew, urging us to foster deep love and compassion between us all. But, in truth, they seem to set an impossibly high standard. How can I love you as I love myself? Why should I be your guarantor?

It was the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe who presented the magnificent answer.  If I really love me, then automatically I really love you. Because on a soul level, you and I are one. We share the same soul, only our bodies are divided.   If I only love my superficial self, my external self, my body, my garments, my job, my home, my car, my watch, my iPhone, then I look at you as a stranger. But when I fall in love with my deepest I, with my Neshama,  with the Divine light within me, then naturally I love and cherish you too, because our soul is one.

In his Tanya , the cornerstone of Chabad Chassidic thought, the Alter Rebbe explains that since the Jewish soul is part of G-d, every Jewish person is essentially one. According to this, the truest, deepest, and most essential aspects of our identities are deeply connected. Everything else- the superficial aspects of our personalities, our bodies, ideologies, the things that separate us, are just the clothing we wear.   The Baal Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe personified these values in the purest way, and their stories, songs, and teachings are steeped in love of the fellow man, love of their fellow Jew.

The story is told of a man who bought a ticket to ride on a large ferry.

As he arrived to board the ship, he was disappointed to find that his seat was located far away from any of the windows, and try as he might, he could barely catch a glimpse of the water. 

“I only got a ticket, so I could see the water,” he told himself angrily.

Frustrated, he decided to go with the obvious option, and began banging away at the floor of the boat in order to drill a hole so he could see some of that lovely blue water. The alarmed sailors quickly stopped and seized the man, and hauled him before the captain, reporting exactly what the passenger had done.

“What in the blazes do you think you were doing?” demanded the furious captain.

“I was just trying to make a hole under my seat,” said the man, “after all, I paid for that seat with my own money - I should be able do whatever I want with it!”

“You fool,” said the captain. “If you make a hole in the ship, we will all sink.”

No, we can never be blind to the challenges and to the travesties that occur around us, and anywhere in the world. Remember, if you lose I lose. For me to win, I need you to win.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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