HAPPY IN THE HOLOCAUST
Everybody wants to be happy. Very few people are.
One fellow says, “All I need is to get married, and then I can be happy”. His friend says back to him, “All I need is to get divorced, and then I can find happiness in life.” A third fellow says,” All I need is to buy my dream house, and then I can be happy.” His friend answered back, “And all I need is to pay off my mortgage, and then happiness can begin.”
On one man’s grave, it was inscribed, “Here lies the man whose happy life was about to begin.”
The reason why unhappy people are unhappy is not because something they have or do not have in life. A man living in the lap of luxury can be wretched, and a man in the depths of poverty can be overflowing with joy. I will share with you the wisdom of one refrigerator magnet, “I had the blues because I had no shoes, Until upon the street , I met a happy man who had no feet“.
What is the secret ingredient of the happy people that is lacking in the unhappy?Â Happiness is an “all – weather”/ “all – terrain” decision, and not everyone realizes this. And many who actually do realize this are not willing to make this decision, daily.Â The secret of genuine happiness is, the ability to say, “No matter what happens,Â I decide to remain happy.” And one needs to make the decision a few times a day, or as many times as something unhappy comes into his life schedule.
As long as someone is looking for or depending on something outside himself for happiness, he is missing the happiness boat. Because the port to the happiness journey is internal, not external. All external causes for happiness dim with time. Only internal happiness is an everlasting flame, one that no one can extinguish. Victor Frankel wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way. Happiness is one of those choices. It is one of those freedoms.
All those unhappy people out there -Â and too many times in life I mistakenly join them – are looking for an external element of happiness or pleasure. Even if that external element is something somewhat internal, like a good feeling of accomplishment, it is still external. It is not the real thing. Even depending on successful childrearing for happiness, success at learning Torah, success at making a livelihood, success at enjoying your family, or success at self development for happiness, although these are all more internal expressions of happiness than worldly desires, they are still not the inner happiness that is eternal, rather, they are all dependant.
This wise piece of advice, that happiness is internal not external, is found in the Orhot Tzaddikim on happiness.Â “The four fundamentals of happiness are, “Emunah, Bitachon, Common Sense, and Contentment” (Orchot Tzaddikim). Internal things, such as appreciation, bring happiness. Depending on anything that is more external than that is not deep enough, and only risks missing out on the internal, eternal happiness that we are all capable of having. This is a lesson that my mentor, Rabbi N. Geisler, taught me this week.
This is one of the principles of Judaism and coaching. G-d equips Man with all the resourcefulness he needs to manage for 120 years. He is self sufficient. The coach’s job is not to offer resources of information, not to come with the approach that ‘I am wiser than thou’, but to help the client find wisdom on his own, from the inside. To help him realize that happiness is a choice that you can make. The Swedish saying goes, Those who wish to sing, always find a song. Internal.
The difference between a “Real Jew” and the Jew who is just going through the motions is this internal concept. It is not how much a person knows, but how deeply they understand. The Real Jew internalizes the basics of religion, actively, daily, or a few times a day. He decides, every day, that he is happy that he has another day to live, even if he is living in the Holocaust. While the tagging along Jew is passive about his beliefs and fundamental principles of Judaism. That is the whole difference. The Real Jew works from the inside out, constantly finding in himself the inner cause for the problems that the Universe sends him.
Every year that I learn this Parasha, I have a question. The Jews sinned again by complaining. They were so disgusted with the Manna, that they wished they had never left Egypt. G-d punished them with a plague of snakes, that bit many of the Jewish Nation. Many died. And they came to Moshe with regret, asking from him to pray to G-d to rid them of the snakes. G-d told Moshe what to do. Moshe made a copper snake and put it on high. Whoever got bitten by a snake would stare at this copper snake, and live. ( This is why many symbols of medical treatment, on ambulances, insurance logos, etc., display a snake in their design.)
How long did this snake last, curing people from lethal bites? It was operative until King Hizkyahu saw that people were relating to it as an object of idol worship. He said, ‘From now on, people who are sick are going to go after the Snake andÂ leave G-d?’ Hizkyahu crushed the snake. People of that time started saying, “What do you think you are doing? How can you destroy something that Moshe made for us??” He answered, “Anyone who needs a cure can look to G-d and become cured.” And the rabbis agreed with him.
So many people could have been saved from rabies, if we would have had that Snake. After all, Moshe did make it. Moshe, also, was aware of the fact that people could make this mistake, and worship it. And still, Moshe made it. Why ruin it for everyone, just because of some idol worshippers?
Rashi mentions, here, that the Snake did not really cure anyone. And no one dies from the bite of the snake. Rather, as the Midrash Aggadah teaches, the snake was meant to remind people what the original Snake did to Adam and Chava, and how he was punished. And then, the reminder would bring them to Teshuvah.Â Hizkiyahu did not take away the magical cure. The magical cure was Teshuvah and prayer. (It is a fact that has been proven, again and again, that sick people who pray and sick people who are prayed for have better chance for recovery than those unaided by prayer. Internal shifts of belief can be more powerful than medicine.)The snake was just a reminder that the answer to the snake bite is something internal. And if we would realize this and would worship G-d, we could be cured.