Pesach Day 8 5782 – The Blessing of Joy and the Curse of Happiness

By: Dr. Jeffrey Buch

What makes us feel good?  What gives us joy?  In a world, seemingly tearing itself apart, how do we maintain humanity?  Some Dvar’s will speak to your mind and arouse your intellect.  Today, I wish to speak to our hearts and souls that inspire and inform our intellect and our actions.

Today’s Parsha speaks of Blessings and Curses, Good and Evil, and Free Will.  It tells us to sanctify G-d with a Temple at the place that He shall choose and to be weary of false prophets.  We are given signs to identify kosher animals, fish and birds.  We are told to Tithe 10 % and to provide for the Levites and the poor.  We are told to release slaves on the 7th year and to forgive loans on the 7th year as well.  We are told that we shall ultimately gain more than we have given through these actions.  In current parlance, we are instructed to “pay it forward”.  Lastly, we are reminded to celebrate Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, which are the pilgrimage holidays.

All of instructions above boil down to the fact that we have the Free Will to make both good choices or bad and we can follow G-d’s recipe for making good choices, or not!  When we make good choices and “pay it forward” we do so with joy in our hearts and we are blessed.  When we make bad choices, our hearts are empty, and we are cursed.  Happiness can be fleeting when it is not the byproduct of the joy of giving.  Joy is sustainable.  Happiness is not.

Joy comes from the heart, whereas happiness is more cerebral in nature.  The mind can fluctuate in its perceptions and moods, and it has the tendency to always ask us “What’s next?” or What have you done for me lately?”  In scientific terms, the mind is searching for the next surge of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.  The everlasting joy that comes from the heart of a person who continually looks for opportunities to give, to “pay it forward”, creates the steady heartbeat and steady flow of blood that sustains both body and mind.  It is joyous behavior and actions that nourish the soul.  Fleeting moments of happiness that result from titillating self-indulgence simply lead the mind and ego astray.

G-d places before us the choice between blessings of sustainable joy or the curse of pursuing the fleeting moments of happiness from self-indulgence, that beg for more, more, more…  Where will it all end?

Choose wisely my friends.  Choose with your heart to “pay it forward” with sustainable joy.   In the spirit of Passover, redeem yourselves from the bondage and enslavement that characterize the endless pursuit of self-indulgent happiness.  Chag Pesach Sameach!  Shabbat Shalom!