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Todah Le’HaShem Part III

Updated: May 27, 2020

Article from: Alon HaKodesh (4) Ayin Tova (Good Eye) Edition

“It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise [Torah] man than for one to listen to the song of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:5)    

 "טוֹב לִשְׁמֹעַ גַּעֲרַת חָכָם מֵאִישׁ שֹׁמֵעַ שִׁיר כְּסִילִים" (קהלת 7:5)    

Throughout the trials and tribulations of life, a typical person would seek advice from someone they viewed as wiser and more knowledgeable.  It never seems to fail in disappointing us of how limited the advice is when the wisdom we chose is based on secular knowledge.  We often wish we could’ve saved ourselves the time, frustration, embarrassment and possibly the $400/hour psychiatric expertise fee.  Our life’s journey would be smoother if we’d simply known that the best advice these experts can typically offer is “it’ll get better,” “it could be worse” or the exaggerated false empowerment of “you can do it.”   After all, they are using the same manmade manual as their patient, which includes their own unique experiences.  When the wisest man of all time, King Solomon, wrote about wisdom (Chochma) in his three holy books[1] inside the Tanach, he was consistently referring to the divine Torah wisdom.  Unlike manmade advice that is too biased and limited to fit everyone, the divine Torah is a one size fits all that is customized to you.  Instead of sympathy, the Torah offers the empathy we all seek.  But before we can appreciate the necessity of change, we must first understand the root of the current failure to attain happiness by the overwhelming majority of mankind today.

A lifetime of psychological brainwashing has led us to say things like “the grass is always greener on the other side,” or “it could be worse;” and let’s not forget our typical response when asked about our wellbeing as “not bad[not bad at all].” Though these statements seem to be harmless figures of speech, they expose the hidden attitude behind our unhappiness.  Rather than saying Baruch HaShem for the good we have, we are conditioned to think about the frustrations we’re dealing with.  In short, we’ve become conditioned to be miserable in our present state, yet hopeful that things will become better in the future.  The problem is that the current system we’re using is being steered by the same Yetzer HaRa that conditioned us to be miserable in the first place.  This makes it impossible for us to succeed in attaining anything beyond sporadic bursts of like-happiness, which are typically dependent on variables beyond our control.  Happiness is not supposed to be like an adrenaline rush, but rather a constant state of being.  Imagine being happy just because! 

An even deeper analysis of our choice of words shows that we are constantly measuring our happiness by our perception of others.  Whether it’s the neighbors’ grass being greener, or his overall situation being worse than ours, we’ve acclimated ourselves to size everyone up the minute we see them.  Subconsciously we tell ourselves to feel like their success makes us a failure, while their demise makes our situation more bearable—maybe even a success.  This type of measurement is flawed at best, and though unintentional, it’s nevertheless like the Ayin Ra’ah (evil eye) possessed by the students of the wicked Bilaam.[2]   Making matters worse is that it is in sharp contrast to the clear happiness instructions of our Torah Sages.  

As our Sage Ben Zoma said “….Who is the rich one? One who is happy with his share…” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

"בן זומה אומר:....איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו...." (אבות ד,א)

When the holy Tanna[3], Shimon Ben Zoma, masterfully summarized one of the Torah steps to happiness in only four words, he emphasized that attaining it has no direct correlation to the success or failure of others.  Whether your neighbors’ grass is greener or not is no longer perceived the same way.  You no longer look over the fence with jealous curiosity.  If you happen to see it, you’re either overjoyed by his success or concerned about his failure.  Unlike the students of Bilaam, the Ayin Tova (good eye)[4] of the students of Avraham Avinu sees the success of others as part of their own happiness.  Your neighbors’ success is now empowering you to see the endless possibilities in HaShem’s infinite world.   These possibilities are available to all in the world of the Omnipotent HaShem.  This newfound empowerment shows that happiness with your share does not dampen your ambition, but rather reorganizes it. 

After we’ve become happy for others, what can this Ayin Tova do for us if our own share is truly difficult?  Like a domino effect, our newfound Ayin Tova perspective of the world will also help us reassess our own difficulties.  If we all take a moment to reassess our needs without comparing ourselves to the neighbors, our findings are unbelievable.  In every past case you check, you’d see that HaShem has given you exactly what you needed.  It may not be what you want, but if you’re here reading this, then it’s clear you have what you need. 

“Then Yaakov took a vow, saying “if God will be with me, will guard me…; will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear…” (Genesis 28:20)

ויִּדַּ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב נֶ֣דֶר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־יִהְיֶ֨ה אֱלֹקים עִמָּדִ֗י וּשְׁמָרַ֙נִי֙ בַּדֶּ֤רֶךְ הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָנֹכִ֣י הוֹלֵ֔ךְ וְנָֽתַן־לִ֥י לֶ֛חֶם לֶאֱכֹ֖ל וּבֶ֥גֶד לִלְבֹּֽשׁ׃

The Torah tells us that when Yaakov Avinu left his father Yitzchak’s home, he did not pray for the fame and fortune he ended up attaining later in life.  Rather, Yaakov’s pleadings to HaShem were for the very basic needs of life—food, clothing and shelter.  Yaakov’s understanding of what’s truly worthy of prayer did not weaken his ambition when the opportunity arose.  As it is written “The man (Yaakov) became exceedingly prosperous… (Genesis 30:43).” Despite his success, the heart of Yaakov never changed towards haughtiness.  To the contrary, the verse “I [Yaakov] have been diminished by all the kindness and all the truth that You [HaShem] have done Your servant;” (Genesis 32:11) shows that Yaakov’s success led him to worry.  Since he’s been gifted success beyond what he prayed for, he was afraid that he’d already used up more than his merits warranted.[5]

During a time of reflection, Yaakov reminded us that anything that’s above basic necessity is a bonus on top of the bonus we already get from HaShem.  Although his success was decreed by HaShem, Yaakov’s extraordinary response to the blessings was only due to his predisposition of being happy with his share.  Ambitious to grow into the greatest nation on earth, he knew that all he’ll ever need to achieve happiness is exactly what HaShem gave him at the time.   Just as his richness was determined by his happiness with his own circumstances, his success in attaining happiness despite his circumstances is what actually made him rich.   

For those of you who want even more happiness and blessing in both this world and the next, BeEzrat HaShem we will discuss more Torah details in part IV of our Todah Le’HaShem series.   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).

“It (Torah) is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and its supporters are praiseworthy” (Proverbs 3:18)

If you ask the praiseworthy supporters why they grasp it, they’ll simply tell you that it’s their tree of life.


[1] The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs

[2] (Pirkei Avot 5:22)

[3] Rabbinic Sages that lived during the Mishnaic period at approximately 10-220 CE

[4] See (Pirkei Avot 5:22)

[5] See Ramban (Parashat VaYishlach 32:11)

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