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By Dr H. M. Marvin
Perhaps the biggest desire in todays fast paced society is being
happy. A simple desire, certainly, however it is more and more
difficult to attain. With domestic strife and violence increasing
and the fenzied persuit of pleasures and thrills beckoning for
our attention, happiness is all but concealed. Not just a fleeting
euphoria, a passing elation, that like a summer cloud, elusive
and intangible, there for a moment, to remind us of it's existence,
and then, once again gone. Is happiness a unatainable goal for
us? Is it something that does not exist, but just a Madison Avenue
and Hollywood Blvd. gimmick, just a clever method of wetting our
desires to buy a new product?
And yet there are individuals who are truly happy. Has life has
smiled benevolently upon them, like the sun rays piercing through
a hole in a cloudy sky? And the rest of us, must we walk with
dark clouds overhead just catching glimpses of a legendary rainbow
Perhaps, the answer can be found in a Jewish folk story:
A hundred years ago, a wealthy merchant came to a large city for
business. He took a room at the local hotel. Durring his stay,
he heard that a very wise and holy Rabbi lived in this city. The
merchant decided to visit this famous Rabbi.
Arriving at the Rabbi's home, the merchant was dismayed. This
Rabbi, who was known for his scholarliness and holiness, the head
of a large and well known school, boasting many brilliant students,
lived in a small simple shack. The merchant eyed the Rabbi's one
room house with a simple clay floor, furnishings of the bare minimum
standard (and perhaps sub-standard).
The merchant could not contain his surprize. "Is this how
a gifted Rabbi lives?"
The Rabbi was surprized too. He asked the merchant, "Why?
What is wrong? How do you live?"
The merchant replied, "I have a beautiful home in a small
city. I have a beautiful garden surrounding the house. I have
many rooms, not just one. I have very nice furniture, hand carved
wood, with soft filling and velvet covers. I have the nicest paintings
on my walls, painted by artists from France. And you," he
said, turning his head, and pointing to the baren walls, "Why
don't you live in nicer conditions?. Your school has many wealthy
students. Certainly you may charge them tuition!"
The Rabbi turned to the man in surprize. "But are you not
living in a simple one room apartment at the local inn?"
"Rabbi, I am surprized at you! That is not my real home.
I am just staying there temporarily. After a week or so, I will
return to my city and my real abode. This room is just temporary."
"Ah, I see." said the Rabbi. "But I, too, am only
here temporarly. This is my temporary home too. My real home is
in heaven. Soon, I, like you, will leave this temporary home and
I will go to my real home which is ever so much nicer that this."
From this story we can learn several points that will bring us
to be truly happy.
The merchant felt that being happy involved acumulating wealth
and displaying it in an austentacious manner. He required the
reassurement of others to fortify his miss givings that wealth
brought happiness. Obvious to everyone who has a functioning brain
in his head; money, materialism, and their persuit do not bring
happiness. The merchant, like so many others in our generation,
fell into the common rut of self deceit. Rather than acknowledging
the emptiness of wealth, his conscious display of it props up
his false givings. He knows that it is not necessary, but it justifies
his giving his life over to aquiring it. He acknowledges, however,
that for a temporal domain, he can live with much less.
The Rabbi, on the other hand, challanged the merchants basic assumption.
Is this world the world, or is it a mere vestibule leading to
another more rewarding domicile? The Rabbi tells the merchant
that this world is merely transient, therefore, we may make do
with less and still enjoy it.
We, also, can do the same. No one today needs to live in poverty.
But if we realize, not just intellectually, but also emotionally,
that we don't really have to strive for outlandish physical attainments;
that modest comforts and modest fare reduce the lure of the falseness
of "success brings happiness" mentality. That being
happy is not materially oriented (basic needs are obviously a
requirement); being happy is based on the feeling of self satisfation
in relation to our friends and family.
Once we not just learn this simple lesson intellectually, but
when we live it, then we will be truly happy. Happy not only with
what we have, but happy in spite of what we do not have.
from theJune 1998Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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