Have you noticed how fashionable it is among politicians to proclaim the poverty of their childhoods? I was brought up in a two room house on the wrong side of town. I grew up in a one room house outside of town. Well, my family lived in a tiny log cabin near the forest. So what! Me and my brothers and sisters all lived in a tent eating berries we picked in the forest. And so on… If you believe them, you’re more gullible than they are duplicitous.
Well, I enjoyed a more than comfortable middle class childhood, thank you very much. And that was a good thing not only for me as a child, but also for me as an adult. I know how wealth is created by strong marriages and strong values.
Chief among those values is that we all have a moral responsibility to be happy regardless of our circumstances. Yes, that’s right, a moral responsibility. You see, your mood impacts the lives of those around you. And how you impact the lives of those around you is the heart of morality. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis tells how as a small girl in a German concentration camp, her father reminded her that her job was to walk around among the other prisoners smiling. By doing so she was able to bring a tiny sliver of happiness into the lives of the doomed.
In our lives today, accepting the obligation of being happy as a moral responsibility makes you a very desirable person to work with and to live with. One of the greatest gifts spouses can give one another is being a happy person. Surveys repeatedly show that business success is almost always accompanied by happy dispositions. Why would this surprise any observant witness to life? We all prefer conducting business with happy people. Not surprisingly, happy people attract people and having lots of people in your life adds to your happiness. This equation reads both ways as do all true equations. 2 + 2 = 4 is just as true as 4 = 2 + 2.
In the Lord’s language the word for happy is SiMCHah and though it often appears in the Torah in the context of the Biblical festivals (which brought people together) it appears only once in Genesis and only once in Exodus.
Laban remonstrating with Jacob for departing:
Why have you fled so stealthily and cheated me? You didn’t tell me or I would have sent you off with happiness (SiMCHah) and song… – (Genesis 31:27)
God speaking to Moses about Aaron:
…he is going out to meet you and when he sees you he will be happy (SaMaCH) in his heart. – (Exodus 4:14)
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that these two exclusive uses of the word for happy serve to contrast the wicked Laban with the saintly Aaron. Laban will rejoice when his family members leave and Aaron rejoices when reuniting with his brother, even though his brother will outshine him.
We don’t allow ourselves the indulgence of awaiting outside circumstances to precipitate our happiness. We initiate the happiness which amazingly often precipitates good circumstances.
As a bratty ten year-old, I remember once gloomily dragging myself around the house. Finally losing patience my mother rather firmly told me to lose the long face. With all the impertinence of boyhood, I retorted, “Get me a motorcycle and I’ll be happy.” I can assure you of two things: First, for the remainder of the day I walked around bearing four finger marks on my cheek. Second, I never again have made the mistake of thinking my happiness depends upon external circumstances.
No, my childhood did not lack sufficient money. And I can most assuredly tell you neither did it lack for the timeless truths of ancient Jewish wisdom. Even if those eternal values were sometimes administered in such a way as to make certain that an obstreperous and incipient juvenile delinquent never forgot them.