Rabbi Greisman's Blog

Are you happy with your lot?

Can you name three things that you consider "good" and three things that you consider "bad?" They can be objects, behaviors, attitudes, concepts, people or ideas.

Now close your eyes for a moment and think if the things you considered good are always good and those on your bad list are always bad? I bet that at least two, but likely all three, can be classified as the opposite.

That is the nature of the world we live in: nothing is entirely good or entirely bad. Certain things have more good and others have more bad but most can go either way; depending on when, where and how they are utilized.

Our sages say in Pirkei Avot: "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot." When a person is truly content and satisfied with what he has, he doesn't envy someone else's home, car or wealth; he is free of jealousy and competition. And therefore, he is truly "rich."

Like the three things on your list, this seemingly healthy attitude can sometimes be unhealthy too.

Spiritual and physical are antithetical in their very essence. A superior quality in the physical is a deficiency in the spiritual. So while in material assets being "happy with our lot" is the ideal to live by, in spiritual matters, however, it is the worst deficiency. When we are satisfied with our level of knowledge - we cease learning; when we are comfortable with our current level of generosity - we cease giving and when we our happy with our current level of Judaism - we cease growing. When we cease growing, we descend and fall.  

So let's be happy with our lot in the bank, but please, let's never be content and happy with our Jewish possessions. 

Have you seen little Messiah?

Every year the Social Security Administration publishes a list of the most popular baby names for the previous year. Alongside that is a "change in popularity" list; names that have recently become more popular. When the list for 2012 was published some of the news agencies highlighted the fact that the name Messiah made it to the top 5 of that list, reaching the 387th rank in 2012, up from 905 in 2005 and 633 in 2011. I couldn't help but smile when reading this meaningless fact. 

This coming Tuesday we will mark the Yohrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. I was a young teenager when I last saw the Rebbe and heard him speak, but I was truly inspired--to this very day--by the Rebbe and his teachings.

Much has been said and written over the years about the impact the Rebbe had on world Jewry, reviving a nation spiritually and physically beaten to the brink of destruction during the terrible holocaust. The Rebbe inspired the masses to live proudly as Jews even in secular America, and he infused thousands with the ability to look forward and see a thriving future to Judaism. 

More remarkable, however, than the inspiration for the holocaust survivors was the effect the Rebbe had on the next generation of Jews; Jews that were born after the war, growing up in "the Goldene Medina," the land of freedom and prosperity, the USA. 

The Rebbe was able to inspire so many to pay more attention to their spiritual wellbeing rather than their material pleasures; to establish hundreds of institutions worldwide where Judaism is taught and practiced in a way that would make our ancestors in the Shtetel proud; to spread an awareness of genuine, authentic Judaism and the tremendous joy it brings throughout the world; and of course, to motivate so many young couples to move away from the comfort of their families and communities and relocate to the far corners of the earth, to places where they can do more for the wellbeing of Jews and Judaism.

One reason, perhaps, that the Rebbe has such an effect on those that are inspired by him, both during and after his lifetime, is because for the Rebbe Judaism, G-d and the Torah, weren't a subject, a way of life, or a religion. For the Rebbe, the Torah was the ultimate truth, G-d was the only reality and Judaism wasn't a way of life, it was life itself. When you were in the presence of a man who truly lived it, who truly believed that every word in the Torah is real, you were moved and transformed. In the Rebbe's presence, you "forgot" about yourself and your needs. There was a sense of being connected to the truest thing in the world.

One area where this is clearly seen is in the size of the family. It is no secret that in today's society, where our personal 'needs' and comforts are king, children are unfortunately often viewed as a burden and having more than one or two children is considered to be old fashioned, out-of-touch, and an unnecessary financial and physical burden.

rebbe smiling B&W.jpgThe Rebbe saw in each child the greatest gift possible; a part of G-d, a divine soul and a blessing and treasure that cannot be measured. Can one even compare the joy, love and decades of a relationship with a wonderful child to a new car, a Disney vacation or a new swimming pool? The gift of bringing a new life into this world, of creating another G-dly image, of having unlimited opportunities to love a son or daughter far outweighs the perceived difficulties that appear to come with it.

The Rebbe spoke and a generation listened. Thousands of families put their own comforts aside to bring more lives into the world. Today, an in-house Minyan of children is an innate desire in the heart of every follower of the Rebbe. Does it cost more? Sure! Do we "enjoy" the materialistic parts of the world less? Do we have less 'free time?' Absolutely! But the gift of every child is so immeasurable, so invaluable; it makes all of these 'necessities' seem unimportant. They were moved and inspired to undertake the expenses, burdens and commitments that come with it, because they were able to feel the "truth" of the blessing of another child. The Rebbe lived it, and made others live it too.

Two years ago, my Bubby Henya Schusterman passed away. Her entire immediate family and most of her extended family perished in the hands of the evil Nazis. She and my grandfather came to this country with little means and a shattered life. But they rebounded and established themselves comfortably in this country. Bubby often spoke of her family as her true revenge to Hitler and the only true joy in her life. When she passed away at the age of ninety, she had (sit down....) over three hundred descendants: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. Her walls were covered with family pictures and baby pictures of her offspring (in her last years of life there was a new addition every other week. There have been dozens more since her passing). The smile she had when looking at those pictures or posing in some of them was truly priceless. She didn't have to wait for her only granddaughter to come visit once a year; one of her dozens of grandchildren or hundreds of great-grandchildren would stop in to visit almost on a daily basis.

I thought of that smile when I saw the name Messiah as a popular baby name. For the purity of a child, the true gift of another life and the ability to put life before comfort is nothing short of a miracle and a redemption. The Rebbe's vision was for the world to reach its ultimate purpose of redemption with the coming of Moshiach (Messiah) speedily in our days. At that time, we will all live a life devoid of material pursuits, competition and rivalry and devote ourselves to Torah study and the knowledge of G-d. Every child born is in his or her own way a little Messiah.

When I think of Bubby's smile, or the Rebbe's smile, when seeing a Jewish child, it isn't another smile of life. It is the smile of life itself.  

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.