Todah Le’HaShem Part I

Updated: May 27

Article from: Alon HaKodesh (2) Tu B'Av Edition


Perplexing as it may be in our times, attaining spiritual success on Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) means that you’ve cried [real teshuva tears] over the monumental loss of the Holy Beit HaMikdash, almost two thousand years ago.  Even more puzzling is when we learn that Tu B’Av (15th of Av, i.e. less than a week later), is coined as one of the two most joyous days for the nation of Yisrael (Ta’anit 26B).[1]  Though not an official biblical or rabbinical holiday, Tu B’Av is treated as a special day where Tachanun prayer is not recited.  In addition to the half a dozen reasons mentioned in the same Gemara[2], the Sages are also teaching us one of the principal foundations to a successful life—it’s okay to be sad, but not for too long.  


“Mitzvah gedola lihiyot b’simcha tamid”

“It’s a big mitzvah to always be joyous” 

(Likutey Moharan, Torah 24)

We’ve all heard the happiness song based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, yet how many people can testify to heaven that they live this happiness and joy even when they’re life is full of darkness and difficulty?   It seems impossible to join the “happy people” dancing in the circle, when we’re so busy wallowing in our own personal pain and sorrow.  I remember asking myself “what are they so happy about?” more than a few times in the past.  Of course no reasonable person is even remotely interested in the temporary happiness of a shoteh (a drunkard), yet many settle with just that. 


Instead of listening to the Sages about having a temporary sadness, many find themselves with a temporary “like-happiness” that’s typically depending on exterior stimuli.  Even this false sense of reality does not have the staying power promised, and only appears sporadically inside their constant state of sadness.  Some fool themselves into thinking that they’re happy by regularly using marijuana, alcohol, pain killers, and other psychedelics. Others choose to manipulate a different hormone (i.e. adrenaline), and jump out of planes, gamble or otherwise put themselves in dangerous situations intentionally.   The list of temporary fixes has no end, and some can even sound reasonable.  Just as Pharaoh kept Am Yisrael too busy to even think straight, the Yetzer HaRa has even more creative tools. 

“And Moses spoke accordingly to the Children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of shortness of breath and hard work” (Exodus 6:9)


In the end, these adrenaline rushes and/or mind altering drugs only help the unhappy drown out the pain of their “sad reality.”  Aside from the obvious life danger, all addicts admit that even this false reality has its limits.  Are these people acting out of desperation or simply ignorance about attaining happiness?  Most likely it is a combination of both.  

".....וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹתָֽה"

“….and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to grieve over her” (Genesis 23:2)

Anyone that allows themselves the privilege of thinking honestly should now begin to ask some question about themselves.  Questions like “can we attain true happiness despite the sadness that is very much a part of life?”   The Torah testifies[1] that Avraham Avinu excelled in minimizing his sadness even when he found out that the love of his life, Sarah Imenu, has passed on?  Can we emulate Avraham Avinu?  The answers to both are YES!  The simple fact that the difficult life experiences of our forefathers are written in the Torah is a testament that we can [and must learn to] emulate them at our own respective levels.   

The “how to” is a bit more complicated and requires several steps.  The first two steps that we learned thus far are:

  • Stop, think, and be intellectually honest about your state of happiness, so you can pursue it

  • Minimize your sadness

BeEzrat HaShem, in part 2 of this article, we will discuss many more details of the “how to” with the accommodating Torah sources.  In the meantime, we should all take this time to think, reflect and realize that we all live a life that’s full of difficulty;  it’s time to make something good out of it.  This opportunity alone is reason enough to say Todah Le’HaShem (Thank You to HaShem).


________________________

[1] “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, “There were no happier days for the nation of Yisrael than 15 of Av and Yom Kippur.” (i.e. the days we can be forgiven for most of our sins)

[2] See (Ta’anit 30B) or (Yalkut Yosef Hilchot Tu B’Av Siman 559 preface) for list of reasons

[1] The letter chaf (כ) in the word for grieve וְלִבְכֹתָֽה is written smaller than norm to suggest Avraham minimized his sadness and kept it private because he knew she went to Gan Eden (Kli Yakar, R’ Hirsch)

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