Happy. It's often a response [I just want them to be happy] to the question "What do you want for your children?"

Being happy is what our country wants for us too. From the Declaration of Independence: "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Okay, so let's parse this out a bit. The 'pursuit' of happiness infers that happiness is something to work towards. It's a goal, right?

What our culture 'teaches' us

This is reinforced in subtle and more obvious ways in our culture. If we think that true happiness is a state of mind that we are looking to inhabit, how can one acquire it? Can a person even 'get happy"? Our cultural milieu tells us we can, by the acquisition of things: more, newer, better....Plus we can acquire little pieces of glamour and luxury by owning 'branded' items that allow us to feel just a little bit special.

The advertising industry admits this: “...Happiness is the most evoked emotion used in ads by brands and advertisers. In many cases, happiness is the key motivator for "purchase intent, discovery and shareability" [from a study in 2018]. Don Draper (a character from the drama Madmen) said it much more succinctly: “advertising is based on one thing – happiness”.

Just think about the explosion of social media platforms, what version of happiness is predominantly represented there? How many posts go beyond the "Try this, buy this, do this, get this"? [okay, so maybe it's more like "I tried this, bought this, did this, went here...but the implication is 'this is what I value since I'm sharing it with you'].

So, where does Judaism stand on this? Is happiness in life viewed as a goal? If so, then is it a mitzvah (a commandment)? A driving force? Is attaining happiness what our sources say we should be headed for? If so, then what is the path toward that end?

For the sake of your reading time, I will (over) simplify how Judaism views happiness. Meaning that, for example, I will not explore or offer techniques here, nor grapple with the bigger question of how to achieve a true state of happiness in the midst of a difficult (and often suffering) world.

Judaism has no formal commandment to 'be happy'. In our tradition, plenty of words describe the emotional state of happy. Just a few are gila, rina, nitza, hedva, sasson, simcha, oneg, tza'hala...and more! Amazing! Hebrew is such a sparse language yet there are so many words for a positive state of mind. What does that say about an approach to life?

But it would be deceiving to think that just because there are lot of names for something, it represents a goal. In Judaism, the goal for our lives is more about attaining a sense of 'completeness', described as wholeness, or in Hebrew, shleymut. Shleymut comes from the same three-letter root word Shin - Lamed - Mem (ש - ל - ם) as Shalom, peace.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz says that simcha (joy, happiness) is not to be confused with momentary pleasures, but instead is a deeper feeling, an "experience of the soul doing what it should be doing". The feeling comes, paradoxically, after a difficult and labored process is undertaken and being a part of that brings joy. Think of the meaningful things in life that require effort, birthing a child, learning a skill, accomplishing a goal...it is the journey that is aligned with your purpose that sparks true happiness. It is when your soul sings.

The feeling of moving closer to your goal brings happiness. You're engaging in an activity that you know will bring you to a different place than where you are. Your knowledge that your efforts will bring you to the destination, to the end goal, brings the sublime experience of happiness. Going from one state of being to another will change you.

And if your actions are aligned with your purpose, the feeling is absolutely delicious and can be described as a sense of shleymut. Within this experience of wholeness, you will be elevating your soul to a higher level of awareness, of appreciation, of sacredness. It is a soul-lifting experience.

So, the question is, what are you doing that makes your neshama (soul) play its melody? Then, dwell in that space for as long as you can.

My appreciation to Rabbi Akiva Tatz for his insights related to this subject.

Every week, I get to imagine the world as it should be. As Friday night approaches, I look forward to the total disconnect I will have from the real world during the next 25 hours: no news (absolutely none), no bothersome notifications, no task-list cross-offs.

Just time to 'be'.

I crave my weekly escape but it wasn't always that way. I did not grow up Shabbat observant, and frankly, way back when, I used to think of this weekly break as a restrictive ancient ritual that just didn't apply to me. The list of 'do nots' went against my independent, modern sensibilities. Why shouldn't I do what I feel like? Why should I be limited? There's so much to do, so much to see, so much to discover....

During these times of Covid, when many say that days are like drippy watercolors, blending into each other, it is less so for me. In fact, for the past year, I've appreciated the special Shabbat sweetness even more since it is my island of time in a sea of sameness.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi says that "The prohibitions of Shabbos jump out at us at first because anyone can understand a prohibition, whether they fulfill it or not. Modern Jews are inclined to resent such restrictions....the more we can get into the spirit of these laws, the more we can begin to grasp the benefits that Shabbos can bestow. [A] traditional Shabbos is not a day to do; it is a day to be....we are free to pamper our souls."

Schachter-Shalomi uses this metaphor in Jewish with Feeling: a Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice:

"Imagine your spouse or partner rushes in and says, "Honey, listen, I got us tickets for an island vacation! It's a package deal. You pay up front: once we get there, everything is free. You're not going to believe this place. It has no commercial establishments whatsoever. There's nowhere to spend money! They don't allow any cars or mechanized vehicles on the island, everything is literally within walking distance. They ask guests not to bring cell phones, computers, TVs, or radios. We won't have to do any cooking: the meals are supposed to be great. 'So what do people do? I asked the travel agent. 'Won't we go a little crazy, with so little stimulation?' She said, no, not at all, that people tend to get acclimated very quickly.....it's just total downtime, total rejuvenation."

Just Be-ing is just one way that we can imitate our Creator ("B'tzelem Elohim").

Moses has an encounter with God at the Burning Bush and is working through how he will possibly convey God's message to the Jewish people. He asks "who shall I tell them sent me?" God responds "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh". Ehyeh is a form of the verb 'to be' but in Hebrew there is no word for present tense of "to be" so the Name is usually translated as "I will be what I will be" or "I am, I was, I will be" or "I am who I am", ---all verb forms, a state of Be-ing.

On Shabbat, we too, can just be.

Journaling is an incredible tool that I don't use often enough.

I'm not sure why we resist the practice of journaling so much.

For me, it is still not so easy to face a blank page, even after journaling for many years.

Why is this so? Well, for one, the stark white surface stares at me with the boldest indignation muttering "Go ahead, I dare you...write what you really feel, and oh yes, try to keep it short please...."

The other thing that holds me back is the deeper, darker reason---confronting myself with the parts of me that I'd rather ignore. This seems like a compelling reason to postpone. Hey, if I don't bring up any negative feelings they don't exist, right?

Perhaps I also find it challenging because my practice is not very regular. I don't do "morning pages" [the creative foundational tool promoted by Julia Cameron years ago] because I am always in a rush to get the day started and more often than not, writing ends up last on my list of 'to-do's' in a day.

Another reason is that sometimes it feels so self-indulgent to take even more time to write after all the other practices I do on a daily basis. (really, how can people fit it all in??)

Yet when I do write, I feel accomplished in a precious indescribable way. It's as if I've given voice to the unspeakable, to the deepest part of my soul. I am emboldened to have slayed the white page monster. I am a little more at peace. And I feel brave for looking at myself the way I know I need to.

There are very real benefits to this practice, and if learning about them will encourage you to write more, then read away here, and here, and even here.

You can start writing your thoughts spontaneously at any point in the day. Try just writing even one sentence at a time. Once you unlock that gate to your inner self, it will get used to the air and come forward more often.

Try any of these 7 Journaling tips to help you get started:

  1. What you write is for you alone.

  2. You don't need a fancy journal book. A spiral bound notebook, or composition book (remember them?), or just some stapled pages will serve the purpose. On the other hand, you might choose to go in the opposite direction. Pick the most attractive book and writing implement if it will serve as an incentive for you.

  3. This is not the place to worry about grammar or syntax (see #1).

  4. You don't even have to begin with words. You might try doodling at first, just to loosen up your creative brain. Or use pictures to represent a feeling or mood.

  5. The next time you're facing an issue, or a cross-roads, try 'talking it through' by writing.

  6. Silence the "judgey" voice that tries to critique you at the outset. There is absolutely no wrong or right in this practice.

  7. Even if nothing comes to you at first, you can begin writing "nothing is coming to me..." (guaranteed to work, let me know if it doesn't).

Do you have a journaling practice? If so, can you share what it is? Your ideas can help others who are struggling, and we can struggle together. How about it? Offer your comments on InnerJudaism's Facebook page.


Engaging in study is fulfilling a Jewish obligation, a mitzvah. When you increase your wisdom, you sensitize yourself and grow from the experience. So, not only are you growing closer to God, you are reaching deeper parts within yourself. 


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© 2020 Ruth Schapira