Posts Tagged 'Happiness'

The Opposite of Fear

In the waning moments of Sukkot I am left pondering the meaning of the Festival of Booths. It is commonly referred to in our liturgy and literature as Zman Simchateinu, the time of our happiness. If I accept that this is true, what does it mean to legislate rejoicing? What is happiness? Not that might take a lifetime to define. So I started thinking about the opposite. What is the opposite of happiness? Sadness? No, I actually think it is fear.

When we think about it, living in the world is a scary thing. Maybe by coming out of our homes and going into Sukkot we reconnect with the fragility of our lives. If we live in fear we will get nothing accomplished. This made me think about the oft quoted Kol HaOlam Kulo by Rav Nachman of Breslov. His saying goes:

The whole world is a very narrow bridge.

And the main thing to recall – is not to be afraid at all.

Fear has a way of taking up all of the space in the room. It is hard to live in fear. We only will have room for the other emotions in life when we figure out how to  live with fear.

I was thinking about this when listening to Tight Rope by Alex Clare. Please enjoy the song:

It is a great song and I did not give it much thought, but when I realized that he was a Ba’al Teshuva I started paying attention to the lyrics. And the song goes:

Life’s a tightrope, and you’re standing on one toe.
Don’t let the fear take hold of you, you’re bound to fall to the ground below.
Pick yourself up again, over the edge again, hold on to your hopes and dreams.                                                      When all seems to be lost, don’t start to count the costs,just go and begin again.
Tight rope walker.
The only thing I’m sure of is, to have no fear at all, just go, keep on going on.
And the only thing that’s certain is sometimes you’re bound to fall, just go, keep on going on.
When all you work for, comes tumbling to the ground.
Don’t let the sadness fill your heart, tomorrow may be a better day.
Lift your head up again, you know you’ll start again, no matter what may come of it.
You know there’s more to life, I’m sure that you’ll survive, you know what you have to do.
Who knows, what may come tomorrow, who knows, what tomorrow may bring.

It seems clear to me that Alex Clare is in conversation with Rav Nachman, but only the artist can tell us what inspired him. To the person walking across, if the bridge is narrow enough, it looks like a tight rope. To the point of defining happiness we can say that it starts with the confidence to traverse life’s challenges. Coming at the end of this long concourse of holidays, during Sukkot we aspire to feel that “tomorrow may be a better day”. We are not alone. We need to help pick each other up, not fear the bridge/tightrope in front of us, and bring happiness to everyday in the upcoming year.

Happy Times

Succot the Festival of Booths is also called Hag HaAsif, the holiday of in-gathering (of crops). And in our liturgy, Succot is  called  Zman Simchataynu, the time of our happiness. I love this holiday and it surely is a time of happiness, until I get to ready Kohelet, Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes seems to be one writer’s existential crises twelves chapters. He says it many different ways, but it all comes back to his realization that life is meaningless. You would not necessarily pick at the perfect reading for this holiday of joy.

On reflecting on Kohelet I got to thinking about how much of this book is really about the crisis of an individual who is trying to create meaning in the world. The title in this sense seems to be ironic.  Kohelet is the story of a man who seems to have never found a kehilah, community ( same root). Surely happiness needs a context to be lasting. Just as Kohelet leaves aspects of his life in pursuit of meaning, on Succot we leave the permanent structures of our homes for the temporary structure of the Succah. It is there that we re-establish our community with intention. While the buildings come and go, the community is something that lasts. Succot is a time during which we work on kehilah creating the context for lasting happiness. Chag Sameakh

Happiness Beyond Words

The news these days is really tough. There are so man bad things going on. It is hard to read the news without getting really down. For that reason is particular hard to read the end of Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

13You shall keep the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress. 14 And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates. 15 Seven days shall you keep a feast unto the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful.( Deuteronomy 16: 13-15)

While everything around us is telling us to worry, the Torah is telling us to be happy. While it seems that law can command you to do actions, it seems hard to charge someone to have a certain disposition. What might it mean to mandate happiness or joy?

What is happiness and how do we obtain it? There seems to be proximate factors and ultimate factors. A quick list might include money ( see Goldman Sacks), power ( see Nietzsche), sex ( see Freud),  a combination of these (see Scarface),  meaning  (see Frankel), or flow ( see Csikszentmihalyi). Seeing that many of us are sharing in the bad news of the day I want to think about the idea of joy being the experience of joining something bigger than ourselves.

Often our lives seem trivial. But joining in with others helps us think that we just might be part of something bigger. On Succot it has to do with joining in the national experience of the Temple. Today we join in by helping out, communicating that we care ( usually in its food form),  or just showing up. In many ways we can see the joy of belonging in the simple act of singing which transcends words in bringing joy to people’s lives. It seems only appropriate to learn this Torah from the Rebbe of not worrying and being happy, Bobby McFerrin . Even if you cannot get into the news I hope that you will enjoy this video.

Certain happiness is beyond words.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 209 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: