"Constant Search has to be Coupled with Constant Joy"
He states that the following two commands must be performed simultaneously:
- “Seek His Face constantly”
- “It is a great mitzvah to always be happy”
The Rav advises:
"The best solution to keep the quest going without getting weary is to have a heart filled with happiness and hope."
And he’s very honest and open about his feelings.
He endured personal moments of sheer terror.
Yet he emphasizes the constant seeking of connection with Hashem accompanied by a happy heart.
Believe me, he wasn't chuckling or doing the Irish jig when he was brought to KGB interrogation where they talked about shooting the rav and his friend with the casualness of shooting a beer bottle.
Yet he emphasizes the importance of being happy in connecting with Hashem and scrutinizing yourself for self-improvement and repentance.
Rav Bender says:
"If one looks without joy, he is prone to stop looking.
Because he will always harbor thoughts that maybe he is not finding enough in his search."
"Not only will he not find, he will lose what he already found. For small-mindedness discourages a person and brings detrimental thoughts…such a thought pattern is very bad when a person is busy looking for what he has not yet attained."
"Go with a happy heart when looking for Hashem. The fruit of the search…lifts you higher and higher. You will certainly not fall back and lose what you already found…"
A Happy Mind is a Disciplined Mind
“To come to peace of mind [yishuv hadaat] is through joy. Because joy is mental freedom. But through depression it is impossible to run the brain as you wish. It is hard to settle the mind. But through joy, one can settle the mind and run it the way he wants. Since the mind is free and not in exile.”
I always associated joy or a happy heart with giddiness and frivolity. It always seemed like being happy makes you crazier and more impetuous while being very solemn and even grave grants you a balanced mind and better decision-making.
In fact, we even refer to deep thoughts with the slang, “heavy.” If something is very profound, we say, “Whoa, that’s pretty heavy.” There’s a sense of being weighed down with all that deliberation and contemplation.
And of course, a happy-hearted person can still possess a serious countenance. But he or she is not depressed or sad. They’re just taking their responsibilities seriously, that’s all.
One of the things I’ve been learning from reading Chazal is to reframe my understanding of happiness.
When Judaism talks about joy and happiness, it means real joy and not the fake giddy frivolous merriment I’ve been seeing most of my life.
Happiness that comes from mockery, secular comedy, or emptiness is latzanut. This is disconnected from Hashem and leads to lightheadness or recklessness or a mind-numbing “high.”
Real joy is connected to Hashem and leads to all the good things Rav Bender describes here.
From reading classic Torah sources, I’m learning about genuine joy and not its giddy shadow.
Rav Bender says:
"For example, I now want to speak to Hashem Yisbarach about a certain holy thought. Let us say nullifying a certain negative trait, such a pride and the like. In order to do this properly, it is necessary to bind mind to idea.
"This is done through joy. Because joy is the world of freedom.
The mind is liberated and you can control it.
But when it is not happy, thoughts do not stick…
Happiness is the most effective solution to attain freedom and peace of mind."
Yes, apparently so!
Once again, Judaism is cozying up to the very real paradoxes that Hashem established within the world.
But how does one achieve happiness? By means of the amazing advice in the lesson Azamra L’Elokai B’Odi (Likutei Moharan 282):
To seek and find in myself good points. Through this, the mind is elevated.
Well…as always, it depends on your motivation.
Understood superficially, this sounds like all the self-affirmation and self-esteem building stuff advocated by psychology. We’re back to the the old “Love yourself and everything will be dandy!” method again.
But it's much deeper and more real than that.
"Thought is in my hand to use for doing the will of the Creator. To seek Him in every place, to draw close and cleave to Him."
Why are you seeking out your own self-fabulousness?
In order to work on the not-so-fabulous parts of you.
You are using your acknowledgement of your good points for Hashem, to bond with Hashem and to enable yourself to perform a genuine cheshbon hanefesh and perfect yourself as much as humanly possible.
This goes far beyond the psychology of “love yourself so that you can love others” or "Be happy and then you'll be a nice person."
It’s "love yourself so that you can love Hashem" because your self and your positive attributes come from Hashem. He’s part of you and you are part of Him.
Your negative attributes also come from Him, by the way. So self-hatred and self-recrimination are not part of cheshbon hanefesh or Jewish teshuvah.
(Regret is good. Recrimination is bad.)
Summary of the Main Points
- Work yourself up into a good mood as best you can; cultivate a happy heart
- Seek out the good points in yourself and actually find them.
- While in this state, look out what you need to improve in yourself. (You can use your children’s undesirable behavior or someone's hurtful comment for clues. Ask Hashem to guide you in this. After all, He gave you those hints, so feel free to pester Him to enlighten you!)
- Do each step with Hashem. All of this needs to be done with Hashem.
Again, it's important to be happy.
This does not mean you think your negative points are cute or funny, as people often imply when they joke about their penchant for snipey comments or coarse behavior.
"Funny" and "cute" aren't joyful or happy.
You're happy that in addition to being snipey or coarse, you also cook meals for the sick and you have a soft spot for elderly people.
And you are happy that you are willing and able to regret your snipeyness or coarseness because the ability and willingness to do teshuvah are great middot!
1) Admit to Hashem that you've been snipey.
2) Regret it. (And feel happy about the fact that you are able to regret it.)
3) Take upon yourself to cease and desist with the "sur m'ra v'aseh tov" ("turn from evil and do good") method: "Instead of using my quick tongue to slice through people, I will now use it to build people."
4) Think of to whom and how you need to apologize: "Shira, I feel that I've said things in the past that were inappropriate and hurtful, and I'm very sorry. You have many admirable qualities and I was wrong to ever insinuate otherwise. I truly regret my hurtful and inappropriate behavior, and have resolved to work on this bad middah. If there is any further way I can make amends, I hope you will feel free to discuss it with me."
May we all merit to do full teshuvah from love.