Archive for Happiness

The Pleasures of Chanukah

There’s an interesting story told by Rabbi Isaac Olbaum at one of his lectures about Rav Levi Bardichiva that teaches an important lesson about the pleasures of Chanukah in which we’re in the midst of celebrating:


Rav Levi Bardichiva once walked into a room where his friends convened. He found it quite odd that they stopped their conversation so abruptly as if they were hiding something from him. After he pressed the issue, they confessed that they were embarrassed at the topic of conversation and felt he would think they were wasting valuable time that could be spent learning Torah. The friend mentioned how they marveled and were so impressed with the exquisite mansion of Count Potosky.



Count Potosky was a very rich man who had a son who was executed by the non-Jews because he converted to Judaism. The gentiles gave Potosky’s son an ultimatum: either convert back or be executed. He said ‘I’m staying a Jew’. Soon after, young Potovsky was hung and then burned, and many years later, a tree grew from his ashes. Till this day, people would point to that tree and tell you the story of Potosky.



Apparently, the friends of Rav Levi were admiring how rich he was and how he would indulge in all kind of pleasures. Rav Levi responded, ‘Did Potosky light the candles of Chanukah?’ Obviously he didn’t; but if he did, Rav Levi seems to imply, that would be the most pleasurable moment he would have experienced.



What is so special about lighting Chanukah candles?



The Rambam (Maimonides) who, besides being an authority on medicine, was a tremendous halachic figure (expert on Jewish law), is quoted as saying, ‘The sages enacted these eight days as eight days of happiness and praise (Hallel). What constitutes happiness? Happiness is interpreted as having meat and wine. Apparently, this is what gives pleasure to the body and soul. Every time there is a reference to ‘happy’, a meal is required. After a delicious meal then he’s able to sing praise (Hallel).



However, we know a meal is not required on Chanukah. Do you mean to tell me that lighting the candles is a substitute pleasure for the meal? How so?



Chanukah is often compared to the holiday of Purim; but why is a meal required for that holiday and not this one?



In the story of Chanukah, the Greeks didn’t want to kill us; they wanted to embrace us. Their goal was to destroy us spiritually (no Shabbat, no brit milah, etc). Purim, the wicked Haman wanted to destroy us physically. Therefore, we counter back by using our physicality and getting a pleasurable experience with a lavish meal. We use the physicality as a gratitude to G-d. On Chanukah, though, we use the spirituality as gratitude.



‘Everything is from the heavens except fearing G-d’. Although one has to make an effort, for the most part, we have a hard time controlling our lives whether it is making money, marriage, kids, and death. Many aspects of life are determined by the heavens with the exception of spirituality, which is determined by you. It’s our choice whether to keep Shabbat, keep kosher, and be nice to people. It’s in our hands, we’re in control.



So what are the pleasures of Chanukah? We”ll get a better picture from a little glimpse of history. Achav was the wicked king of Israel (kingdom was split Israel and Judea). The Gemarah says he has no share in the world to come. At the time, Aram, the neighboring country who was superior in might, was at a state of war with the Israelites. Aram sent a team to Achav with their demands of surrender. These demands included the Israelites to give up their possessions, wives, and children. Achav was listening and agreeing to the surrender demands. Then they said ‘give up your object of desire, your Sefer Torah.’ ‘Absolutely not!!’ he said, ‘we’ll go to war with you first!!’ he answered back. The Israelites went to war with Aram and won.



Achav, whose reputation as a rasha is unprecedented, violated everything in the book. Why all of a sudden did he say no? What does he care about a Sefer Torah? We see how a Jew can be so complex in his behavior. Every Jew has a certain Jewish pride, a deep down caring about his religion, about his people. When push comes to shove, a secular Jew will bang on the table and declare ‘I’ll show you what it means to be Jewish’. Perhaps this is the reason we are required to light the menorah by the window so that the whole world can see what miracles G-d did for his chosen people. We show the world, but for the most part, it is for us to feel good about ourselves. We light the menorah with pride like the Maccabees lit after they miraculously defeated the mighty Greek army. The pride in doing so should bring out a tremendous pleasure.

The Price of Fame & Talent


            This past week, the world discovered a new star, Jeremy Lin, a basketball player playing in the NBA for the New York Knicks, who is a back up to the back up, and was given a chance to play. Lin took advantage of the opportunity and played terrifically. The whole world, especially the sports world, now knows who Jeremy Lin is. He became an overnight sensation. Reporters are following him everywhere. Everything he does, whether on or off the court, is magnified. His life basically has changed in a ferocious way.



Also, this past week, one of the music industry’s famous stars, Whitney Houston, was found dead in a hotel room in Los Angeles. The police are suspecting drugs to be the cause of her death. Houston, who had a drug problem for years, has watched her career tumble because of the addiction.



We are witnessing the rise of a star and the unfortunate demise of another. Playing the back seat driver, which we all like to do, perhaps Mr. Lin might need advice on how to deal with his newfound fame. Not that I’m an expert, but I’ve asked our good ole’ pal, Dr. Goldman, the Psychologist of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, on what Lin should expect, and how to protect himself from the damage fame can have.



The Mesilat Yesharim says the evil forces can test a person with failure, and also with success. Dr Goldman says fame and/or talent can be very destructive. One has to keep a proper balance of life, to know the value of what is worth in their lives. New York had a Governor years ago by the name of George Pataki who used to travel from Poughkeepsie to Albany back and forth in order to spend time with his family. His children were in school in Poughkeepsie, and it would have been difficult to take them out during the school year. Even though Pataki commanded one of the most important and powerful jobs in New York – if not the country – he still did not change the priorities of what he thought was important in his life – family. Many thought that was very admirable.



Dr. Goldman also warns that dealing with people can be a challenge with their newfound fame. Many will praise you and try to accommodate you any way they can. They’ll try to put you on a pedestal. It’s understandable; this behavior is expected by strangers or people who don’t know you well. However, sometimes family and close friends might fall into that trap and start treating you differently. One has to work profusely and exhaustingly to keep your relationships as normal as possible by reiterating, “I’m the same person” and encourage the same normal relationship as before. It’s so tricky; apparently, one is in danger of losing a sense of identity.



On a smaller scale, in our lives some of us tend to achieve success in some form or another, and people are sensitive enough to realize it and tend to react differently. One has to be prepared and make the proper adjustments. He or she has to have the proper perspectives and values, Torah values, and not to lose one’s identity with their newfound and temporary fame.

American Classic




There are certain events in history, that if one is a part of it, he would be defined as privileged. An example would be, if one is part of a home crowd where their team is playing the seventh and deciding game of the World Series. At the last at bat where the bases are loaded with two outs and in dramatic fashion, the home team batter hits a grand slam homerun. What a dream it is to be a part of the moment in the stadium with thousands who are watching this great classic, epic event. Such is the case, last week at the twelfth Siyum Hashas, where 90,000 plus, Orthodox Jews attended to celebrate finishing the seven year cycle of the Talmud. Although, not wild like what was just described, the crowd a bit more subdued, tamed, and a lot more dignified, but you can tell that everybody there had this inner simcha – happiness that was so gratifying.



Besides the proud accomplishment of finishing the cycle, Jews and American Jews, especially, should be proud of the incredible, well-organized and well-orchestrated display of speakers, video presentations, musicians, cantors and choirs. They brought the best in the business to the grand stage of the biggest crowd, in the history of a Jewish religious sit-down, with your potato chips and $3.50 bottled water, event. This was an awesome display of modern technology and Torah, where you had four jumbo size big screens at the four corners of the stadium and the acoustics were amazing.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand, who is one of the top gun American speakers in the Jewish circuit, spoke very well. It was an American style speech, getting the large crowd to clap with enthusiasm every so often similar to the classic American orators that we see so frequent on television. It reminded me of those Republican/Democratic conventions or State of the Union addresses style that the Americans have always been able to orchestrate so well. Once again, Jews have mimicked their host country. I believe it’s a very positive mimic. The American Jews made an event that was impressive with class in a breathtaking big way on a grand scale like no other. I’ve often mentioned my multi-cultural background, though ironically, I feel it’s hard to connect to any particular group. It’s sad that you cannot call anything home; however, because of my familiarity, I’m able to appreciate fully a culture very fine points, since I often bounce around from flag to flag. Those of you who were born in America or grew up here will understand where I’m coming from and realize and understand the American Jewish pride was brought out in this enormous event.



It’s a shame many of our brethren  did not attend, they would have seen Orthodoxy at its best – to observe what’s in our heart and what we are proud of in a pageantry way.  Sometimes words cannot do justice to what’s in the heart; however, an event like this speaks for itself.

An example of what I mean, it was the sixth game of the famous 1986 Word Series where the New York Mets won in dramatic fashion. The announcer, Vince Scully, said words cannot describe what just transpired and he let the camera roll for about five minutes without a word spoken. Similarly, this event “you had to be there”; no YouTube or television would do it justice. I regret not bringing loved ones and friends. I just hope in seven and a half years from now, the next Siyum Hashas, I will have the opportunity, G-d willing, to bring those loved ones and friends and not say a word; just let the breathtaking event speak for itself.

Making People Laugh is Better Than a Million Dollars

The Chozer of Lublin was one of the greatest of his generation. In fact, many people went to him for Brachot (blessings). They came to him for refuah shelemah (health), to find the right soul mate, better their financial situation and for many other reasons. It seemed he was a sure bet. Whatever the request for a blessing from G-d they asked from him, he would give a bracha and a short time latter it would be fulfilled.

         What was his method to success?
         Every night the Chozer of Lublin would recite the special midnight prayer to G-d and he would curl up, scream, yell and cry like a baby until he felt his prayers were accepted in heaven. Hey – whatever works, right?
         One night while he was waiting for his student, Rav Naftali Rupshitz to come, he felt that his prayers to G-d were not being heard. He wondered.  His routine was the same as any other night and yet now, no one seemed to be listening. So he asked the heavens “what is going on up there”?  “If you want to understand the reason, just look at your student, Rav Naftali Rupshitz” was the heavenly response. Apparently on his way to his Rebbi that night, he stopped at an inn and he noticed there was a wedding celebration. As he walks in to a room of dancing he noticed that the Kallah (bride) was sad. So he approached her and asked: “Why are you sad? This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life”!  She replied “our batchan canceled on us and we have no one to tell jokes.” A batchan -comedian was often used at the time and even today at the weddings of Chassidim to make the bring joy to the new couple.
       Rav Naftali looked at her and replied “I’ll be your batchan.”  He then stood on a table and started telling joke after joke until he got the entire inn’s attention. He had the whole place on their knees as result from his funny jokes. Rav Naftali noticed from the corner of his eye that the Chatan and Kallah were really enjoying his routine. He was indeed hilarious. It seemed like the young couple and the people at the inn were not the only ones to take notice, the angels in heaven also stopped what they were doing to hear Rav Naftali. It was such an impressive and funny performance that even G-d stopped to listen. All the angels closed up shop to hear this Jewish Rabbi make the world laugh. This is the reason your prayers were not heard, everybody was out for the evening enjoying Rav Naftali at the wedding party.
         When Rav Naftali finally arrived at his Rebbe’s house, the Chozer of Lublin said to him “what I do with screaming, wailing and yelling you accomplish with laughter!”
         We mentioned in the preceding Dvar Torah on the Parshat Korach, how comedy is can be very dangerous. In fact, it is a two edged sword. As such, it is only fitting that we also see the benefits as well. How important it is to make people laugh in a positive sense and to cheer them up when they are down and depressed. Moreover, it’s a big mitzvah (commandment) to make a bride and groom happy. The rewards are tremendous. We realize from this story, it is indeed priceless!!