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Home » Birth, Life Is Beautiful, Tazria

Giving Is The Secret To Happiness

Submitted by on April 7, 2024 – 8:06 amNo Comment | 200 views

Giving is the secret to happiness. People who think they can be happy from taking or even receiving quickly learn how wrong they are. Do you think Vladimir Putin will be happier if he takes Ukraine? Well, ask him if taking the Crimea made him happy. If he were happy with Crimea, he would not take Ukraine. If Crimea didn’t make him happy, neither will Ukraine. Not because Ukraine is not large enough, but because happiness doesn’t come from taking. Only giving is the secret to happiness.

My father told me that in paradise and purgatory, the tables are laden with delicious food and utensils with very long handles. So long, in fact, that it is impossible to turn it around and place food in your mouth. In purgatory, you suffer. In heaven, you learn that you and the person across the table can feed each other.

The Bird
The other day, I walked out of my home and saw two teenagers at the end of my driveway huddled near the ground. I walked over and found a beautiful little bird that seemed unable to move. I crouched with them, and we connected over our concern for the bird.

When was the last time you saw a teenager embrace a stranger? When was the last time you saw two teenagers embracing a stranger when they had each other? Yet, our mutual concern for the bird brought us together. We tried nudging the bird off the driveway and onto the grass, but it wouldn’t budge. I asked the boys to spot my car as I pulled out and signal me if the bird was in my path, and they agreed to help me—the perfect stranger who was no longer so strange to them. Caring about a little bird brought us together.

Then, an incredible thing happened. The bird hobbled over to the grass. Then it took off, flapping its wings. After several seconds, it came down for a pretty harsh landing, but it refused to give up and tried again. This time, it caught on and learned how to fly. It was flying in spurts, rising and falling, but it kept pushing up toward the sky, and before long, it soared to dizzying heights. We, perfect strangers who were strangers no more, cheered on the little bird. We smiled at each other and said goodbye like old friends.

Caring for Babies
In the Torah portion, we read this week, we learn about mothers giving birth. Babies take everything from us. First, the difficulties of labor and delivery and that is just the beginning. Infants suck every bit of energy from us. We are sleep-deprived and can’t think straight for months, yet we could not be happier.

We are not naturally empathetic. We have to work on ourselves to be that way. But when someone or something helpless, be it a bird or child, is completely dependent on us, we want to help. We are happiest when we assist others in truly meaningful ways. Mother and father give up all their routines, pleasures, and pastimes to care for their little ones. When that little one curls up on their shoulder, they can’t be happier. They have slept for weeks, but when that little one latches on and nurses, the mother is ecstatic. Why? Because this little one needs me, and I am helping. I am giving my very self. My energy, my rest, my milk, myself.

When we are giving, we are in sync with our true nature. When we are taking, we are out of synch and feel it. We feel out of sorts because we are. It is true that we are born as takers. We take for many years before we are old enough to give. But once we learn the pleasure of giving, we discover it is the only way to be truly happy. We can have fun with things we receive or take. But we don’t derive complete happiness from them. Giving is the secret to happiness.

The Blind Person
This brings to mind a fascinating teaching from the Talmud (Megilah 24b). The Talmud debates whether a blind person may lead the section of the morning prayer that thanks G-d for making light. Rabbi Yehudah insisted that only someone who can appreciate light can thank G-d for light. If we were blind from birth, G-d forbid, and never saw light in our lives, we wouldn’t appreciate it and couldn’t feel true gratitude.

His colleagues disagreed and ruled that even someone blind from birth may lead this section of the prayer because they can experience gratitude for light. But how?

The Talmud explains: One day, Rabbi Yossi met a blind person carrying a torch in the dead of night. He asked, “Son, why do you carry a torch?” The blind person replied, “When I carry a torch, others see me, and they guide me away from the pits, thorns, and thistles.” This taught Rabbi Yossi that there is a difference between night and day, even for a blind person.

This led our sages to conclude that a blind person can appreciate light. During the day, he does not need to carry a torch, and for that, he is grateful.

Help And You Will be Helped
Let’s think about this for a second. The blind person can’t see the torch. He is not carrying a torch to help him see. He carries the torch to light the way for others. But when he lights the way for others, he is saved, too. When they see the person lighting their way, though he gains no benefit from the torch, they are moved to save him from danger. When we help others, we end up happy. It comes back to repay us in spades.

We live in an era that can really benefit from internalizing this lesson. Today, people are driven by claiming every right to which they feel entitled. Whether it is Russia gobbling up Ukraine or individuals who protest viciously for every entitlement they choose. They disrupt religious services, government meetings, ceremonial proceedings, festive parades, decorous libraries, or museums. They argue that so long as they are not granted what they want, no one should be able to rest or reap the benefits of their efforts.

But all these protests and entitlement grabs do not make people happier. They just make people grumpier. Taking is not the secret to happiness. Giving is the secret to happiness.

Sadly, our generation has seen a terrible uptick in suicidality and euthanasia. People are sour on life because they can’t appreciate its core value. If physical or emotional ailments keep them from enjoying the physical pleasures of life, they find no purpose in life. In many countries, including Canada, one can, under certain conditions, choose to end one’s life legally—with the help of physicians sworn to uphold the hypocritical oath.

It is believed that this is to the benefit of the patient. The patients believe it is to their benefit. How much better life would be if only we learned the invaluable truth. When our ability to take or receive pleasure runs out, the most important source of happiness is still available to us. The ability to give. For giving is the secret to happiness.

So, if you are feeling down, if you are facing divorce or foreclosure, if your mother is ill or your child has passed, if you can’t find a reason to get out of bed and embrace life, think of someone that you can help. Cook a meal for the homeless person downtown. Go shopping and deliver baby clothing to the neighbor who just had triplets. Find something mundane to you but important to someone else, and before long, life will flow through your veins again. Because giving is the secret to happiness.

 

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