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, of course, issues with the bank. I am groping 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?
Allow me to relate to you a story I heard from my dear rebbe, R’ Yosel Tzeinvirt ob’m of Jerusalem.
Reb Yosel often would tell the story of a group of downtrodden Jews who traveled to visit the famed 18th-century Polish Chasidic master, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. Each member of the group presented his “pekela tzarus,” his package of problems — sickness, poverty, etc. — and asked his advice how to deal with their situations. The Rebbe advised that if they want an answer they should go to the nearby study hall and present their issues to his brother, Reb Zushya of Anipoli. The group entered the study hall, asking for Reb Zushya. A man at the door pointed out Reb Zushya: He’s the one over there with the torn suit which, due to his abject poverty, he cannot afford to fix or replace. His wife and children are home sick, with a leaking roof over their dilapidated house. The group approached Reb Zushya, saying they had come to Reb Elimelech to receive his advice how to deal with their many problems and issues. Reb Zushya, taken totally by surprise, apologized that there must be some mistake in being sent to him. “I’m sorry I’m not able to advise you; I have no problems in my life, baruch Hashem (thank God) I have all I need and have exactly what is intended for me, so I can’t really relate to your problems and issues; perhaps you should go back to my brother and revisit your problems with him!”
Needless to say, the men got their answer!
Reb Yosel, without intending to do so, was actually describing himself! He lived most of his life with a very serious, life threatening heart disease which prevented him from giving the lectures he so desired to deliver, and lived in poverty in the most simple of homes in the Meah She’arim section of Jerusalem. Despite this, none of us ever witnessed anyone whose joy and ecstasy even approached the simcha R’ Yosel expressed every day. He and his Rebbetzin would open their meager home to us all, sharing the little they had while their love and joy in life far transcended the minimal physical trappings they had to offer. Those who had much more would visit Reb Yosel, invariably walking away far richer than he or she had originally entered, envying the “riches” of that home which, in his own words, “lacked everything and at the same time lacked nothing”!
Joy, we learned from Reb Yosel, is not something which comes from outside-in, depending upon circumstances. It is, rather, a human condition which 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 a million dollars in the lottery standing next to a woman who had two million dollars 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.