Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Parshas Tazria-Metzora 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tazria-Metzora

19th day of the Omer – Avos perek 2

4 Iyar 5781/April 16, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

MAH NISHTANAH 2021

            I wrote and sent out the questions on Pesach. I am now resending together with my response:   

 

Dad, I have a few questions that have been bothering me recently. I hope you won’t take them personally:

 

Why is our family different from other families in our neighborhood?

1.       Other families make beautiful extensions on their homes, buy new luxury cars every few years, and have careers and portfolios that are constantly expanding. Why are they growing and expanding while we seem to be stuck, flat like a matzah?

2.       Other families seem to have really exciting lives. I see the Instagram and Facebook feeds of my friends and classmates, and they always seem to be having fun and happy. Even when we do the same things it always seems like they are doing it better. Why are their lives so varied and exciting while our lives seem bland and even bitter like marror?

3.       Why do so many other families seem to get whatever they want so easily? Their kids get in to the best yeshivos and seminaries and then find the best shidduchim, while our family has to settle for whatever we get and even that is only after pulling strings and using connections. Why do they seem to be able to submerge themselves in everything they want while we can barely dip into what we want?

4.       So many other families went to exotic places for Pesach, midwinter and other vacations, including Miami, Cancun and Dubai. It was practically obligatory that we at least go to Orlando this year, and yet we didn’t. Why do those families get to recline in the sun while we have to sit here at home?

I don’t mean any disrespect Dad, but if you and Mom can please answer these questions which really gnaw at me, I would be very appreciative.


 

A Possible Response[1]

           

            Since the question was asked using the format utilized in the Haggadah, I will try to reply in the same vein.[2]

            I have to begin with an uncomfortable confession: I’m not coming to answer these questions only for you, my child. I need to answer them for myself as well, (and maybe even more so). Even if I’m not bothered by the things you asked me about, there are invariably other things people have or do that I feel frustrated, jealous or resentful that I don’t have.[3]

            So, my child, the question is legitimate, and the struggle means you are human and have normal emotions. The Torah demands that we not be jealous. However, we have no chance of living up to that standard unless we are honest about our feelings. We need to struggle within ourselves to overcome the natural jealousy we often feel. But we must realize that it’s a process. Our task is to be willing to undergo the arduous process in order to overcome our natural faults.[4]

            In their great wisdom and insight, our Sages teach us that desire and jealousy have no limit.[5] We delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll be happy and satisfied with the next million or the next gadget or vacation. But that’s only until we get what we wanted and realize that we then want the next amenity or luxury and are convinced that then we will really be happy and satisfied - this time for real.

            It’s been said that everyone is trying to find the city of happiness but failing to realize that happiness is actually a state of mind! When we are taught that true wealth belongs to the one who is happy with his portion[6], we think it’s cute, but trite. We fail to realize that those timeless words contain the key to what we are constantly searching for. The more important question then is how we can train ourselves to be happy with what we have.

            A wise mentor taught me that jealousy is the result of being self-focused and focusing on our wants and desires. The way to counter that is by focusing outwards by thinking positively about others. He noted that whenever a feeling of jealousy sets in, he immediately prays that the object of his jealousy should be happy and enjoy what he has, and that G-d help him be happy with what he has.

            He added that even though it feels fake and disingenuous it doesn’t discourage him. Since he truly aspires to feel and think that way, trying to develop that mindset is an integral part of the process.  

            This idea may not ‘cure’ us. But it slowly helps us challenge our automatic emotions so that we can be better and happier people.[7]

            Here’s another important idea: Count your blessings! Write down three things your grateful for today. You’ve likely heard that idea before but may be skeptical. But the reality is that doing so is transformational. Within a few weeks your mood and attitude will begin to change. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back![8]

            Finally, like with every other worthy endeavor in life, we need to daven that G-d help us be happy with what we have and that we be able to overcome our jealousy.

 

            It’s often been said that it’s far easier to take a Jew out of exile than it is to take exile out of a Jew.

            Each one of us was taken out of Mitzrayim with personal love and a personal mission and direction. If we spend our lives looking at whatever everyone else has, we will have never really left the Egypt within us. Part of faith demands that we believe that G-d provides each of us with what is best for us to have.[9]

            With that in mind, the answer to your contemporary Mah Nishtana really is the same as the answer given to the Mah Nishtana of the Haggadah: “We were slaves (to Pharaoh in Egypt) and G-d took us out.” He took each of us out and each of us has our own direction and purpose.

            We are all locked in our own person Egypts but the door is open for us to leave proudly if we are willing to invest the effort and have the confidence to achieve personal redemption.

            Redemption is a process, especially the redemption from our own constrictions and character flaws. Let’s embark upon and endure the journey together!

           

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



[1] Keeping in mind our limited attention spans (especially of our youth), in order to keep the response at a minimum, I have relegated many important points to footnotes.

[2] The haggadah teaches us that all answers must be tailored to the questioner based on the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional capacity of the questioner, and the manner in which the question is asked. There are four sons at the Seder and four different approaches utilized. Therefore, the approach to answering these difficult questions must be individualized as well. The following ideas should only be understood as possible points for discussion.

[3] I want to normalize and validate the question and laud my child for having the courage to ask it. The reality is that most of us struggle with jealousy. However, we often mask feelings of jealousy with religious zeal or other rationalizations. For example, when attending a posh wedding people may angrily announce to their fellow tablemates, “Why are they wasting so much money on making this fancy wedding? Do you know how many poor people they could support instead of having carving stations and a whole orchestra tonight?”

Who wants to admit the truth about feeling jealous? It’s far easier to make myself feel better by pretending that I am holier than thou - thou being the one who could afford luxuries I can only dream of.

Validating the question also has the important benefit of allowing my child to feel comfortable discussing uncomfortable topics with me.

[4] I should add that there’s an approach I do NOT want to take with my child: “You think it’s all glamorous. But really those people aren’t so happy. You don’t know the struggles they face. Their life might look perfect on the outside but really they have major problems.”

I don’t think that is the optimal response. It’s undoubtedly true that we don’t know what is going on behind closed doors, and everyone has their share of challenges.  It’s also important to convey to our children (and ourselves) that the images portrayed on social media don’t reflect the real truth of what’s happening in other people’s lives. Social media doesn’t display reality, but rather the reality that the host wants the viewers to see.

However, to teach my child that the way to deal with jealously is to assume anyone who has more than you has their own issues, is just another unhealthy way of trying to assuage my own feelings of jealousy. It’s essentially mentally putting the other person down in order to make me feel better about my underprivileged situation. There’s gotta be a better way!

[5] Koheles Rabbah 3:12 - “No one dies having ascertained (even) half of his desires”; and the more one has the more one wants (“One who has one maneh wants two”).

[6] Avos 4:1 “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.”

[7] Contemplate the following: Two different people inherit a box containing fifty million dollars. They both go to their backyards and walk twenty paces from their house and dig ten feet down and place the box containing their riches in the ground. The first person has no idea that his neighbor saw him, and a half hour later dug up the box and stole everything. Meanwhile, the second person was a nervous wreck that someone was going to steal it and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. The next night he mistakenly walked ten paces and dug twenty feet down. Obviously, the box wasn’t there. For the rest of his life he never stopped mourning and bemoaning his fate that he had lost his wealth, all the while not realizing that it was right where he put it. Meanwhile, the first fellow was content with the knowledge that his wealth was safe and secure, and he never bothered to check if it was still there.

Who would you rather be – the millionaire who was miserable because he thought he was a pauper, or the pauper who lived his life in blissful happiness thinking he was a millionaire? Who is truly the wealthier and more satisfied person?

[8] Dennis Prager notes that we all suffer from “missing tile syndrome”. If someone is sitting in a room, looking up at a tiled ceiling, and there is one tile missing, that’s where he focuses his vision. He doesn’t notice all the other perfect tiles.

Prager notes that doing so undermines our happiness, because we are always focusing on the missing tiles in our lives. Our choice is whether we focus on the tiles we do have, or on the ones we’re missing that we see others have. The answer to that question largely determines how happy we feel.

 

[9] The Chofetz Chaim once asked someone who he was doing, the fellow replied that he was doing well but a little more money couldn’t hurt. The Chofetz Chaim replied “how do you know?”

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