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Being right vs. being happy

happy right change ur mind.jpgThis week my daughter Rosie got upset at me after I reprimanded her for hurting her brother Mendel. I sent her for a time-out in her bedroom which only served to heighten her annoyance. After about ten minutes, however, she emerged with a glowing smile and got straight down to work building a Lego tower, as if nothing had happened.

That same afternoon, a friend rang me up to vent. He told me how before he had left for work that morning, he and his wife had had an explosive argument, and he had spent his day seething in anger. He had not spoken to his wife all day out of sheer rage and planned to stay away from home until late that night, just to irk her. The next day I texted him to ask if there had been any reconciliation, to which he replied not yet. The day after, they had come to a grudging peace after coming to a compromise over the matter.

Looking back over my week and reflecting on the two incidents, it struck me that the carefree joy of a child is self-created. Children choose being happy over being right. Adults choose being right over being happy. Imagine how much joy we could inject into our lives and how much more fulfilling our relationships would be if we were to adopt the simplistic attitude of a child. So, can we learn from our children how to behave as adults?

The secret to a successful marriage

My good friend Sam is involved in a serious relationship. They’ve been dating for a while now and recently he confided in me that while he likes her and shares the same values as her, he just isn’t sure if this match is heaven-made. He claims he needs a sign from G-d that this is the right one. “G-d needs to tell me and then I’ll marry her.”

Our community is home to many singles, many of whom would love to settle down and get married.

This week we celebrate what our Sages describe as the most joyous day on the Jewish calendar. In Temple times, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards every year on the 15th of Av. Together they chanted to the observing bachelors, “Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for yourself…do not look at beauty.”

The women’s message carries immense weight even after all this time, and particularly in our ultra-modern society. In order for a marriage to thrive it must be built upon an unwavering foundation, a core that does not change no matter how many storms blow over it. “Do not base your decision on a pretty face or a gold lined pocket,” implored the women. For these outer qualities are at best frail- beauty will fade and wealth may decline.

Human emotions are fragile- today I love you, tomorrow I might meet someone else who interests me more. The crucial element missing from today’s marriages is G-d. In order for a marriage to last we need to realize the truth in the maidens’ words, “Raise your eyes.” We need to look up to heaven and realize that this person who fits all my criteria and to whom I am attracted is my soul mate.    

A couple is comprised of two halves of the same soul. And just as one would not give up his hand or leg, so ought one not give up his soul mate, for the loss of a spouse is in essence an amputation of sorts. This attitude is the first step to an everlasting marriage and the only way a relationship can survive rough patches and rocky roads.

So in answer to Sam, I told him I think he should go ahead. If she’s everything you want and you’re attracted to her- that is G-d’s sign. Now you have to take the leap of faith and give it all you got. Marriage may be difficult but it’s certainly not impossible. Who would guess that all it took was a change of attitude?

Visit to the doctor


Rosie, my four year old daughter has this anti-doctor thing - she is absolutely terrified of them. So this week when she was due to go for her routine check-up, I thought it best to break the news to her on the way there so as to spare us all the ordeal of getting her into the car. Never one to disappoint, she literally flipped out when I informed her, and cried that she was afraid the doctor would hurt her. She begged me to take her home. I felt so bad for her - my heart went out to her. I explained to her that because I love her so much, I need to know that she is ok, and the best way to do that is for the doctor to check her. I told her I’d be with her the entire time and not let anybody harm her. Despite my efforts, she could not quite grasp the concept and wouldn’t calm down. For the rest of the way she remained terribly upset.

At the doctor’s office, Rosie threw a tantrum. No amount of calming her worked. I had to force her to open her mouth and obey the doctor’s instructions. All the while, she must have been wondering why her father hates her so much so as to put her through so much suffering…

G-d loves each and every one of us, and although it may be hard to believe, He treats us all as if we were His only child. This week Tuesday marks the saddest day on the Jewish calendar - Tisha Be’Av, the day that both our Temples were destroyed. Since then, the Jewish people have known almost 2000 years of pain, suffering and unspeakable horrors.

After all these years, amidst the anguish and distress, the one question that continues to haunt us is why? Why need there be so much evil? And although we don’t receive answers, although we will never be able to justify the terrors, we continue to trust, to believe. For deep down we know that no evil stems from G-d. More than that, the pain that G-d puts us through is rooted in His deep love for us; G-d doesn’t hate us for even a moment. Like my daughter Rosie, we don’t realize that all that befalls us is for our own good.

We await the arrival of Moshiach every single day. Only then will we be able to understand with our physical eyes how everything that ever happened to us was for the good. May he come right now!

Bibi's missing guns

American Airlines were left feeling rather embarrassed this week when it emerged that the guns belonging to the bodyguards of their prominent passenger, Benyamin Netanyahu, were lost during his flight with them into Washington. The search for the four 9mm semiautomatic Glock 17 pistols is priority No. 1 in American law enforcement. It is also being investigated by the FBI, Secret Service and Israeli authorities.

Personally, I thought the story could not have happened at a better time as its direct connection to the Parsha of this week is almost uncanny. The villain who takes center stage in Parshat Balak is the notorious mystic Bilam. The Torah describes how together with King Balak of Midian, Bilam devised a plan to annihilate the Jews in a never-before-attempted feat - instead of using traditional weapons against the chosen nation, they decided to tackle the Jews using classic Jewish weapons: prayer, or in this case, curses. The plan was a pretty smart one, only Bilam didn’t count on G-d intervening by controlling his words, which, against his will came out as one of the greatest blessings the Jewish people have ever received. The narrative has a fairytale ending as the Jews are commanded to take up swords and smite Bilam together with the rest of the offenders.

The survival of our people throughout the last thousands of years can only be attributed to a miraculous element. The pages of history have been filled with the persecution of countless nations, yet it is the Jewish nation alone who, against all odds, has survived everything that’s been thrown at us. It makes no sense that we have outlived great civilizations like the ancient Egyptians or powerful empires like that of the Romans. There has got to be a secret, a special something that allows us to endure the endless persecutions. And indeed there is - the Torah.

Obviously this is not to say that a physical army is unnecessary. But as Jews we need to understand that our power lies not in weapons of steel but in weapons of words. Yes, we need to fight with tanks and planes, but without the observance of Torah our victory is limited. Perhaps Bibi’s missing guns is a lesson for us to stop relying only on guns and start praying as well?


Soccer-mania reaches our shul

My beloved home country of South Africa has gone crazy. Soccer – mania has hit the streets. Blacks, Whites, Jews and gentiles are all united in this incredible game. For months the country has been building new stadiums and railway lines in anticipation of the international guests. Soccer mania has even extended into outerspace with astronauts living on the International Space Station tuning in to watch. About one in ten humans are estimated to watch the finals on July 11th – that is 600 million people. As "Soccernomics" author Simon Kuper put it, "It's the moment when the planet becomes a family, when we're all doing the same thing whether we are in California or Nigeria or Shanghai."

An Argentian Rabbi told me that during a class about the future redemption, when he mentioned the word Messiah somebody in the audience said, "oh yeah! I see him on TV all the time – Lionel Messi…." The excitement bubbled over even to our shul in NYC when an Argentinean congregant declared that if his country won, he’d sponsor a Kiddush that would resemble a bar-mitzvah. Not to be outdone, an Italian supporter planned a Kiddush the size of a wedding to celebrate Italy’s triumph. Well, we are still hoping Argentina will win – we want our Kiddush!

When France suffered an embarrassing defeat against Mexico, the nation was so shattered that President Sarkozy demanded an independent investigation into why his beloved country lost. I began thinking how fascinating it is that the entire world watches with bated breath as two teams kick a ball around a field aiming for a net. And the funniest thing is how seriously it's all taken- I mean, who would want to cross the path of an angry fan?

While some might argue that soccer is definitely the ultimate in thrillers, the truth is that there is another similar game that tops even FIFA's record of 600 million supporters. Only this time, it's the real deal.  Maimonides teaches that each person ought to see the world as an enormous scale of good and evil deeds. Every single good deed performed by every single person from all previous generations is on one side while on the other side lies every single sin performed by every single person from all previous generations. Both sides are equal. The scale is about to tip depending on YOUR next move. The two teams are your evil inclination vs your good inclination. According to Maimonides this is the finals. All eyes are on your next move - not only every single one of the fifteen billion people alive right now, but also every single person who has ever lived. Your next move will determine history. So what will it be? A Mitzvah will tip the scale in favor of the good leading to Moshiach- the climax of all creation, a sin will lead to the eventual triumph of evil. The ball is at your feet. Are you going to score the goal?  

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