04 Sep 2015

Ki Tabo 5775: Happiness Is …

Ki Tabo 5775: Happiness Is….

“Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.”
— Ayn Rand

“Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
— Aristotle
Perashat Ki Tabo’s reputation for harsh fire-and-brimstone type rebuke is well earned.  Moshe pulls no punches as he describes the harsh fall out that the nation would endure should they choose to abrogate the covenant they had established with G-d. But it is also in Perashat Ki Tabo that we find commandments ahead of their time. The commandments express the idea that healthy human psychology is essential to a healthy life, something the modern world is only recently coming to espouse.

One of these elements is happiness. Along with themes of love, passion, enthusiasm and honour, Moshe includes happiness as a key component to living a meaningful life.

Be happy with all of the good that G-d has given you and your household. (26:11)

Be happy in the presence of G-d in all the enterprises of your hand! (12:18)

Be happy on your festival! You, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maid, the Levite, the sojourner, the orphan and the widow that are within your gates! (16:14)

Eat…and be happy before G-d. (27:7)

Torah not only commands happiness and sets it as central to the human condition but it threatens punishment for not being happy!

Because you did not serve your G-d with joy…. (28:47)

The way in which Torah treats happiness teaches us something important about its nature. Torah does not see happiness as something that we can pursue or reach for outside of ourselves but a feeling that draws from our very existence and consciousness. According to Torah the only way one can be unhappy is by keeping oneself from it. We choose to be happy or not; and when we are not it is because we are avoiding living in the awareness of our existence.

The Hakhamim understand happiness as experiencing an awareness of one’s helek or ‘portion’. One’s portion is what one is in the world, rather than simply what one has. One’s helek is the place one holds in the universe and it is in that awareness that happiness lies.

Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his helek[1].

To be alive and recognise that our existence is glorious in its own right brings us happiness. We begin our lives happy through this very perspective. As children we adore life and being part of it. It is enough for us. But as we grow it is challenging to carry our happiness with us as we develop through maturity. As we age and better understand the world we also have the opportunity to better understand ourselves and experience deeper joy as a result of a more robust sense of identity. It is for this reason that Moshe speaks in Ki Tabo of the nation’s coming of age.

Moshe said to all Israel… be silent and listen Israel: This day you have become a nation…(27:9)

Coming of age and maintaining happiness is a fragile endeavour. As we get older we also begin to sense all of the possibilities that life might offer us and we can feel bereft when we lack the things that we wish for. As we mature we tend to get used to looking outward and defining the value of our lives based on external validations and what we acquire rather than on who we are. Through this logic the world begins to grow away from us and we gradually see ourselves become more isolated from its beauty. We begin to feel as if life itself is intruding upon us and we lose our joy. But if we strengthen our identity and come to truly know our unique place or helek in the world, we rejoice in our existence.

Although we can’t truly find happiness from external objects, we can use tools to help us settle into the appropriate state of mind. Music is my favourite. Music has a magical ability to pull us out of the isolated mindset and carry us back into the grandeur of existence. It reminds us that we are a part of an epic and exquisite world and that there is a true and special place for us in it. We become conscious of the privilege of being given a life and we stand with God proudly and joyfully in ‘all of the good’.

[1] Abot, 4:1