Monday, August 19, 2013

The Yetzer Hara Wants You To Succeed!

I heard a fascinating idea tonight, presented in the name of Rabbi Berkowitz (I think from Ner Yisrael).

Why is it that we spend so much time during the month of Elul and in shul during Rosh Hashana focusing on the concept of HaShem being The King?

Part of this is because we tend to give some degree of authority to the Yetzer Hara in tempting us to do things that are against the will of HaShem. We recognize his power, and by doing so, we negate our own full personal acceptance of HaShem's Kingship.

What we don't realize is that the Yetzer Hara, being an agent of HaShem, truly wants us to succeed in serving HaShem - and not listening to wayward persuasions.

Any time we are presented with situation that challenges us, we often hear two distinct voices in our heads. For example, a man has decided to wake up early to go to shul and learn before minyan starts. When his alarm goes off, one voice encourages him to jump up and successfully carry out his plan, thus increasing his time for Torah study. However, another voice (the Yetzer Hara) says that he should hit the snooze button, especially since if he sleeps a bit more, he'll be more rested and can even have more concentration when he davens.

The challenge here is to overcome the seemingly beneficial advice the Yetzer Hara is giving us - and that's his true goal.

Just as a coach for a particular sport will challenge his players to overcome new difficulties and reach new heights in performance at every practice, so too the Yetzer Hara sets new and ever more difficult challenges before us as we grow.

On a surface level, the coach may look like he's just making life miserable for his players, but in reality we can understand that he is encouraging them to surpass the hurdles he has created, and by doing so, they will become better athletes.

So too with the Yetzer Hara. By confronting us, ESPECIALLY in our areas of weakness where we need the most reinforcement, the Yetzer Hara is doing his job to get us to recognize where we need improvement and to surmount the difficulties we encounter.

By focusing on this idea, we can put the Yetzer Hara in his place and no longer have our misplaced belief in him detract from our faith in HaShem's Kingship. Then we will truly be able to crown HaShem as our King without any reservations and with a fully heart.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Requirements For Marriage: Simchas HaChaim

I've been musing about the nature of marriage and what it takes to be successful in this often-stressful, yet rewarding endeavor. We're told from the time we are children that marriage will lead to the fabled "happily ever after" among other fantastical things, but I don't think enough people out there paint a realistic picture of how difficult and challenging spending your life with someone of the opposite gender can be.

To that end, I want to discuss the attitudinal notion of Simchas HaChaim and what it can and should contribute to one's life, both singe and married.

Somewhat loosely translated, Simchas HaChaim means the "Happiness of Life," though I would modify that to "the happiness inherent in life itself."

On a philosophical level, I would explain it as something akin to Joie de Vivre. It's a perspective on life wherein a person finds joy in anything and everything, in simply living, and in the simple as well as the more grandiose things in life.

Marriage, and life as a whole, can be very difficult at times. There is conflict, misunderstanding, unclear communication, mistakes, offenses committed, along with frustration and the occasional feelings of anger.

And despite all this, there is always something to be happy about. Whether it's because the weather is pleasant outside, you've got a roof over your head and a comfortable bed to sleep in, there's plenty of food on your table and in your fridge, you can't figure out what outfit to wear from your collection of clothing, or you physically feel good without illness or aches and pains.

I think that Simchas HaChaim means to be able to find these sources of brightness that lift you up and bring some cheer to your mind and soul.

Therefore, even if you've just had a big argument with your spouse, something you were looking forward to didn't pan out, or life took an unexpected and disappointing downturn (sudden or otherwise) - you might be rattled, but on the whole you can overcome the present difficulty by putting it into its compartment in your mind, and continue living.

Sure, everyone gets overwhelmed at times, especially when so many things have gone "wrong" and we feel trapped or stuck with nowhere and no one to turn to. We all have those moments where things kind of break down and we're at our lowest emotionally and psychologically. However, I tend to think that in most normal lives this occurs only on the rare occasion and not with any regularity. If someone feels like this the majority of the time, then I would hope and pray that he/she gets the professional help he/she needs.

Being able to handle the ups and downs of life, being able to find something to smile about despite everything else, is one of the main keys to being successful both in life, and in marriage. Without this, a person can become disheartened and begin to doubt him/herself, marriage, and life itself. That's when you need your spouse to help lift you up and out of the darkness. The ability to do that has a lot to do with the dynamics of communication - which is another important key to success in marriage, but that's a topic for its own post.

I very strongly urge all the readers to explore your own sense of Simchas HaChaim, to understand how your individual emotional and mental attitudes and states of being function, and to find that inner sense of happiness with life.

Happiness is not a goal, but rather the enjoyment of the ride that life presents us, wherever we may go.

Cultivating a sense of how we can recognize and summon that sense of internally motivated happiness is extremely important, and will provide a wellspring of inner strength to endure and grow from the often bumpy road of life.

May we all achieve an understanding of our personal Simchas HaChaim, and may that lead us all to happy lives and happy marriages.