Last week I shared some thoughts on the Sukkah and happiness. This week I’d like to continue the discussion from another angle.
We spoke about how people who find true happiness are people who find meaning in their lives. This week, I’d like to emphasize a particularly meaningful act that has a unique connection with happiness: giving.
Truly happy people are givers. This includes giving to our significant others, our family, friends, and community. And giving makes us happy because it is, quite literally, divine. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a 20th century Torah scholar, wrote an extremely important work about human behaviour called “Strive for Truth”. In his chapter explaining the idea of chessed or lovingkindness, he explained the following:
“When the Almighty created human beings He made them capable of both giving and taking. The faculty of giving is a sublime power; it is one of the attributes of the blessed Creator of all things. He is the Giver par excellence; His mercy, His bounty and His goodness extend to all His creatures. His giving is pure giving for He takes nothing in return. Man has been granted this sublime power of giving, enabling him too to be merciful, to bestow happiness, to give of himself. On the other side stands the faculty of taking, by which a person aspires to draw to himself all that comes within his reach. This is what people describe as egotism or selfishness.”
When we think about how relationships develop, we glamorize the idea of “love at first sight”, and “falling in love” when in fact, it is the opposite. It is in the act of giving that we begin to experience true love. And true love can inspire everyone around. My husband and I were recently at the wedding of a young couple. What was so special about the wedding was the palpable joy in the room for this beautiful couple. It was a reflection of the deep love and warmth that these two people have for each other, as well as their unique personalities. Everyone in the room knew these two people as “givers”, people who give readily from the heart, to each other, and to their friends and family. Their love is the kind of divine love Rav Dessler describes, a love that should be part of each and every relationship we have. Meaningful relationships are based on giving, and serious happiness is based on meaningful relationships.
Simchat Torah is also about a meaningful relationship. We finish the year’s Torah reading with song and celebration. We dance in circles with the Torah seven times to signal the completion and of one more year of learning. We bring out the wedding canopy or chuppah for the final moments of reading the Torah, to remind us of the relationship we have with this book, this tradition and with God. Simchat Torah is our yearly wedding celebration with God!
And like all weddings, Simchat Torah comes with a wedding gift: the Torah. And with the Torah, we follow God on our yearly journey of growth, always learning how to be givers, divine givers, just like our wedding partner.
Since we have a holiday which goes straight into Shabbat, I would also like to include a meaningful dvar Torah from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom