By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have recently been bombarded by a number of downturns in my personal life; trouble with my teenage kids, health issues with my husband and myself, and, of course, issues with the bank. I am grasping to find a way to find joy in life despite all this. I know you’ll say just trust in God, but right now that’s not enough. Do you have something I can grab onto to perhaps have some simcha in my life?
— Marcy L.
Allow me to relate a story I heard from my recently passed dear rebbe, R’ Yosef Tzeinvirt of Jerusalem.
Reb Yosel, as he was fondly known to his students, often would tell the story of a group of downtrodden, troubled Jews who traveled a long distance to visit 18th century Polish Chasidic master, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. They appeared before the holy rabbi, and each member of the group presented his package of problems: sickness, poverty, etc.
They wanted his advice on how to deal with their situations. The rebbe advised them that if they want an answer of how to deal with their myriad problems, they should go to the nearby study hall and present their issues and problems to his brother, Reb Zushya of Anipoli. The group heeded the rebbe and entered the study hall, asking for Reb Zushya. The man who met them at the door pointed him out; he’s the one over there with the torn suit that, due to his abject poverty, he cannot afford to fix or replace. In addition, his wife and children are home sick, with a leaking roof over their dilapidated, one-room house. You’re welcome to approach him.
The group approached Reb Zushya, saying they had come to Reb Elimelech to receive his advice how to deal with the problems, issues and lacking in their lives. Reb Zushya, taken by surprise, apologized that they must have mistakenly been sent to him.
“I’m sorry I’m not able to give you any advice; I don’t have any problems in my life, baruch Hashem. I have all I need and have exactly what is intended for me, so I can’t really relate to your problems and issues because I have never had any myself. Perhaps you should go back to my brother and revisit your problems with him.”
Needless to say, the men got their answer.
Reb Yosel was actually, inadvertently, describing himself. He lived most of his life with a life-threatening heart disease that prevented him from giving the lectures he so desired to deliver, and lived in poverty in the most simple of homes.
Despite this, none of us ever witnessed anyone whose joy and ecstasy in every moment of life even approached the simcha R’ Yosel expressed every day, in each discussion, every mitzvah he performed or Torah he learned and discussed with us.
Joy, we learned from Reb Yosel, is not something that comes from outside in, depending upon circumstances. It is, rather, a human condition that flows from inside out, with no bearing or relation to the actual situation one is found in.
Consider a poverty-stricken woman who just won $1 million in the lottery standing next to a woman who had $2 million and just lost a million on a deal that went south. They presently both are in the exact same financial condition, but will they have the same mood? Is their mood reflective merely of the situation, or of their interpretation of their circumstances?
Attempt to focus on the blessings of your life and look at them as challenges to overcome in the game of life; unique challenges endowed to you by Divine wisdom. The inner joy of that connection can overcome any external situation from putting a damper on the innate joy of your soul.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.