Thursday, September 18, 2008

Elul Thoughts #7: The Secret of Happiness

18th Elul, 5768

Berl is the man who has everything. He has a nice wife and wonderful children. He is well respected at work and he provides well for his family. He has plenty of time to devote to his various interests. Nothing is lacking.

However a deep look into Berl's eyes reveals a tinge of sadness. What's wrong? What could be bothering the man who has everything?

A lot of things are bothering Berl. When it comes to food Berl is a connoisseur. Unfortunately his wife Mindy isn't such a good cook. She's lucky if she can cook za'atar eggs without burning them. On the other hand, Shirley, the wife of his best friend Shmerl, cooks up a storm. How could it be that Berl who is so particular about what he eats could end up with such a klutz in the kitchen?

But that is not all. Although Berl has a good job, his friend and colleague Shmerl was recently promoted instead of him. Berl doesn't understand why he was passed up for the promotion. He's been in the company a year longer than Shmerl!

Berl doesn't always have nachas from his children. They don't always listen to him. Sometimes they are downright insolent! Chutzpah! Shmerl's children seem to honor their father so much! They obey his every word like soldiers!

Berl is jealous and that jealousy is eating away at him. King Solomon said, "A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; but envy is the rottenness of the bones (Proverbs 14:30)." Berl is the embodiment of this verse. Jealousy is a terrible character trait: Rabbi Eliezer HaKapar says, "Jealousy, desire, and honor take a man out of the world (Avot ch. 4)."

Berl has to change the way he views the world. Instead of pouting about what he lacks, he should be happy with what he has. Instead of looking at others, he should count his blessings. Baruch Hashem, I have a wife! Thank God I have children! What a blessing! Not everybody merits this! The same goes for all of the other issues that Berl is brooding on. "Who is rich? He that is happy with his portion, as it says, 'When thou eatest the labour of thy hands, happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.'(Avot 4:1)"


I think that this is especially true at this time of year when we reflect on what we are lacking spiritually. One can become depressed when he thinks of all the things that he has done wrong: the sins, the bad character traits, etc. Regretting our bad deeds is an important part of teshuvah. Happy is he that takes an honest look in the spiritual mirror, regrets his sins, confesses them and changes his behavior for the better!

However one must be careful not to develop a distorted picture of oneself. Our soul searching should also include a look at all of the good we did! This is not in order to lay back on our laurels, God forbid. A look at our good deeds helps give us a positive self image in order to continue such deeds, and to increase them in quality and quantity!

We must serve God in happiness (Deuteronomy 28:47, Psalms 100:2). That includes teshuvah.

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