Published On: Tue, Oct 4th, 2022

Happiness…The Real Scoop

Erev Rosh Hashana

Written By Rabbi Stephanie Shore

High Holidays 2002/5783

8.4.22

I am a big fan of the movie series, “Shrek”. Shrek is a very large, green, ogre. One could say it is a combination of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ meets ‘Rupunzel’ with a little bit of fairy-tale Matrix Sci-fi thrown in for action and excitement.

In the first movie we find Shrek living alone in the swamp lands. We learn early on that although he looks big and scary with quite an ominous roar, underneath it all he is sensitive and only wants to be accepted for who he is. He basically keeps to himself living relatively secluded but still the townspeople organize Ogre hunts. They have a preconceived idea, drawn from their own judgements and not based on any interaction with Shrek himself.

In one scene, the townspeople, thinking they have snuck up on Shrek, while he is sitting in his house, are stunned in place, when Shrek stealthily ambushes them from behind and says, ‘Looking for me?’. The townspeople, with eyes as big as a deer in headlights, are frozen with fear. Then, the ogre lets out a booming roar. The paralyzing fear in their eyes spreads to their whole bodies. Wanting to move their panic has glued them in place. After a dramatic pause, Shrek playfully says, ‘This is part when you run’. The towns people then do their best to ecape in a frenzy and we see Shrek with a satisfying smile on his face. The viewer is led to understand that Shrek is content with his life and gets a little kick out of living up to the towns people’s presumption that he is a force to be reckoned with.

As the story of Shrek’s life unfolds, he rescues a princess, gets married and has children. His life is transformed. In Shrek 4, at a noisy, chaotic birthday party for his toddler daughter we see Shrek bemoaning his current life circumstances. He is romanticizing his younger life. He wants just one day of his exciting but lonely life back.

Enter Rumpelstiltskin. Who offers Shrek a magical deal that promises to restore him to exactly what he was. Rumple says “In order to have one day the way things used to be, you, Shrek, have to give me one day of your past.” Shrek has no idea what day to pick. Rumple suggests, “Why don’t you pick a day from when you were a little baby, when you don’t remember anything anyway.” Shrek agrees and signs the magical contract.

When Shrek wakes up in his conjured new past life he comes to understand that Rumple has taken the day of his birth, he realizes that his entire life did not happen because he was never born.

Rescuing his princess, marrying her, having children, meeting his best friend Donkey…. None of these things happened.

He yells at himself saying, “What have I done”? I just wanted one day my old happy life.

Many of us chase this kind of happy by thinking that if I had this, if I had that I would be happy. This search for happiness is the crux of our problem.

In an essay, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, alav hashalom writes, “Happiness, said Aristotle, is the ultimate goal at which all humans aim. But in Judaism it is not necessarily so. Happiness is a high value. Ashrei, the closest Hebrew word to happiness, is the first word of the book of Psalms. We say the prayer known as Ashrei three times each day. We can surely endorse the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence that among the inalienable rights of humankind are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

He continues, “But Ashrei is not the central value of the Hebrew Bible. Occurring almost ten times as frequently is the word simcha, joy. It is one of the fundamental themes of Deuteronomy as a book. The root s-m-ch appears only once in each of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, but no less than twelve times in Deuteronomy. It lies at the heart of the Mosaic vision of life in the land of Israel. That is where we serve God with joy.

So what is the difference between Happiness and Joy? I have contemplated this topic for many years and have come to understand that Happiness is a pursuit and joy is a knowing.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has more to say on the subject, he writes “Happiness is a solid and joy is a liquid.” Meaning happiness is linked to time and Joy is linked to space. Time has constraints, it has a beginning and an end. Space is expansive, it is infinite.

We all know that poverty is not a Jewish value. For the most part we are a successful people who appreciate things of quality in the areas of entertainment culinary delights and possessions. But think about the 2nd automobile you owned. This was the one that you saved up for and carefully selected. You were so happy driving off the car lot until a little time passed and you began thinking about the next car you would purchase. One that was better then the one you have.

The happiness you felt was for an object it was fleeting because the object was material and would get old and therefore be subject to improved technology and newer gadgets. It was linked to a marketing ploy that causes us to believe that something new and improved will lead us down the road to happiness.

I can experience happiness after enjoying a delectable meal prepared by one of the top chefs in New York City only to find myself, a few hours later, impatient for my next meal because my body is signaling the need for more food energy.

Happiness is fleeting by it’s very nature. It is linked to the outside which is ever changing. We search, we pursue happiness in so many ways. But when we look for happiness in these ways we may feel pleased momentarily but more often than not we are left wanting more.

In an article from Unpacked for Educators a Jewish resource site we read, “We tend to pursue happiness by trying to be wealthier or materialistic; by contrast, joy is the ability to celebrate life with security, to enjoy the presence of others, and to care for and give joy to others.

Rabbi Israel Salanter once wrote that to be a good Jew one has to have every human quality and its opposite. The Torah does not consecrate prohibition; it offers the full range of human emotion and behavior. There is “a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Correct behavior consists of when one does all these acts and how.

Rabbi Salanter continues, “As a harvest festival, Sukkot incorporates frank recognition and celebration of material goods. Jewish tradition sees material possessions as a necessary but not sufficient basis for spiritual fulfillment. As Maimonides writes: “The general purpose of the Torah is twofold: the well-being of the soul and the well-being of the body. The well-being of the soul is ranked first but … the well-being of the body comes first.” The well-being of the soul is more important, but the well-being of the body comes first, for it is the context for spiritual development. Thus, appreciation and enjoyment of material things is a legitimate spiritual concern. It all depends on how it is done. Prosperity frees the individual for personal development; but worshiped or made absolute, wealth disrupts personal growth.

We are here as a community to celebrate and contemplate during these High Holy days. We have an opportunity that is set aside by time. Let us give ourselves the space to engage in the quintessential task at hand. The task of engaging with the most-high and reveling in a sense of what is truly awesome.

It is through this cognitive awareness we will reach an inner sense of joy that will last us throughout the coming year.

Shana Tova!

About the Author

- Rabbi Stephanie Shore Concierge Rabbi, Founder, Executive Director CyberSynagogue, Inc. CyberSynagogue is a Not-For-Profit Tax Exempt 501(c)(3) Smile It's Contagious!

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