Rabbi Mendel Bluming, the rabbi in Maryland, is regularly turned to with the quest of how to find happiness in life.
In fact it is a central Jewish theme because the verse in Psalms 100 teaches that one MUST serve G-d (do their mission in this world) with joy! But how can that be expected when life is often full of pain, loss and setbacks?!
And that’s why it’s handed to us in the form of a mitzvah. Happiness isn’t a reaction to a blissful life but rather an action, a firm ideology to living joyfully regardless of life’s circumstances.
How? Here’s a thought: One can see happiness as being a product of our circumstances, or one can see happiness as the driver of our circumstances.
Joy has the power to tear down barriers. A happy and positive outlook can be the cause of happy and positive results. Not that happy people never have suffering. But happy people aren’t happy to let suffering define them. And that gives them the strength to see through tough period and come out the other end.
We can’t possibly control everything that happens to us or to others. There may be worthy reasons to be sad, and sadness is an understandable and sometimes appropriate reaction. But happiness is not a reaction but an action. We are always able to find reasons to be sad. Or we can focus on living happily.
This is not to mean being blind to the suffering and pain in the world. The Zohar explains that we can feel pain on one side of the heart while feeling joy on the other. I can cry and laugh at the same time. I can be feeling pain, my own or another’s, and at the same time be full of hope and joy.
No, it’s not easy, it’s a lifetime calling.
Menachem Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
The Torah famously tells us (Breishis 32) that Jacob remained alone. Abraham was named Ivri because he was on the “other side” of all of mankind, he stood alone. Elijah famously proclaimed, “I am the only one left, alone.” (Melachim Aleph 18). The Lubavitcher Rebbe was very content to stand alone. He was chastised for his campaign to put tefillin on for men on the streets, for persuading women to light Shabbat candles even if they did not keep Shabbat yet, for his stand towards Israel and on halachic conversion and of course on his Moshiach fervor and so much else. He was willing to stand alone and he formed a Jewish renaissance as a result.
G-d stands alone. The mystics expound that “One who is alone” is the level of the Divine Infinite Light which does not manifest in relationships. As in adon olam “Livado yimloch”. Isaiah 2: G-d will be exalted alone.
Do you have the courage to face standing alone rather than give in for acceptance in the pack? It is not easy, however, it is a high calling.
Chabad rabbi in Potomac Maryland ,Rabbi Mendel Bluming, has served the community since 2000 with his family.
Spirituality and healing are deeply intertwined. Modern medicine recognizes the power of the mind to help heal the body, and the impact of a patient’s spiritual state on the healing process. Any attempt to improve our physical health should be coupled with an upgrade in our spiritual health. On many levels, the body and soul are in parallel.
A medical treatment will only be effective if it is compatible with the patient. Factors such as blood type, genetic make-up and family history will determine whether a particular treatment is appropriate for a particular person. A practitioner would be derelict in their duty if they did not first investigate the patient’s background before deciding how to treat them.
The same applies to spiritual remedies. Your soul’s family history must be taken into account before embarking on any spiritual path. If your soul make up is Jewish, it needs Jewish spirituality to be healthy.
Healing practices can be borrowed from any culture. Stretches and exercises, breathing and relaxation techniques, herbal remedies and natural medicines, if they have been tried and tested and pose no danger, may be helpful, no matter where in the world they come from. These practices don’t need to come from a Jewish source in order to heal a Jewish body.
But once a remedy crosses over into the realm of the soul, your family history must be taken into account before we can determine if it is appropriate for you.
A healthy organism is one connected to its roots. Study Torah and plug in to your soul’s source. You need it for your health. Your doctor doesn’t have to be Jewish. Your spirituality does.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bluming, Rabbi Moss based on Igros Kodesh Volume 10 p38
In the words of Isaiah engraved in the wall of the United Nations: “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks- Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2-4)
But it is a little hard to imagine that in today’s world… how will it come about?
The Messianic era, which we have been waiting for ever since the Temple was destroyed 2000 years ago, will usher in an unprecedented reign of peace. All nations will unite under one G-d with a singular moral purpose. There will be no more war, no famine, and no slow internet. While religious and national identities will remain, the hatred between them will be gone.
No blood need be shed to achieve this. The force of ideas, not the force of weapons, will bring about the redemption. This means some ideologies will need to be adjusted and certain beliefs rejected. But this can be done through introspection from within rather than attacks from without. When truth shines, falsehood falls away.
Sounds impossible? Look at history. Cultures do change. Even religions can reform. Within living memory Germany was a murderous terrorist state, and Japan was a mortal enemy of the west. Those two nations are nothing like that today. Okay, it took losing a World War to get there. But go back a bit further in history. Christianity once condoned the slaughter of non-believers, and that changed without a war. Had you lived in pre-war Germany or medieval Christendom you would have never believed that such change is possible. But it happened.
The Jewish people have always known that the impossible just takes a bit longer. After 2000 years, the time is ripe. We are living in an age of surprises. So don’t be surprised if Moshiach comes and renovates the landscape. Those who were previously classified as enemies will become allies. They will willingly and joyously unite. May it be soon.
Menachem Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
As tradition dictates, freshly laundered clothing is not worn during this period (other than Shabbat), however that is only if they are put on for comfort or pleasure. Those who are accustomed to changing their shirts regularly because of dirt or sweat in the heat of summer, may do so even during the 9 days, even if the shirt is freshly cleaned from beforehand.
Menachem Mendel Bluming quoted from Rabbi Goldstein at ShulchanAruchHarav.com who sources this in Kinyan Torah 1:109; Piskeiy Teshuvos 551:17
I was just thinking a similar question: Why are there so many restaurants in our neighborhood? Shouldn’t there just be one place to go eat? I have counted a dozen on one street!
Would we be better off with just one big restaurant? I don’t think foodies would agree. Some love Thai, others prefer Italian. The formal dining experience in one place suits some, while others seek a casual night out. Family friendly fast food joints will not attract the fine diners, and fancy plates with a tiny little gourmet morsel in the middle will not be popular with hungry adolescents. Vegans don’t seem to enjoy steak houses. Carnivores don’t always go for quinoa burgers.
The wide choice of restaurants caters to all the varied tastes and moods. There can’t be a one-size-fits-all eatery.
It’s the same with synagogues. Each one presents Yiddishkeit with a different taste and unique angle. There are Sephardi and Ashkenazi variants, shuls that sing and shuls that don’t, informal and intimate communal synagogues and grand pompous ones, kid friendly and mature audience only. Long sermon, short sermon, no sermon. Every community style fills a niche and attracts different souls. Each custom has its customers. This is not factionalism or doubling resources. It is opening doors and giving options.
The Jewish people are made up of twelve tribes. Each had their own slightly different way of praying, and yet we are all one People with one common Torah. Even the Temple in Jerusalem had twelve different gates for each tribe to enter in their own way. But everyone ended up in the same Holy Temple. Every shul, with its unique style, is a gateway to that Temple.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
PS. The answer above applies to sizable communities with a critical mass that can sustain many shuls. Smaller communities may not have that luxury. Either way, when we are committed to Torah observance and Jewish unity, we can pray all together or in our own communities and remain one people.
One example is that often one’s passion about Judaism is because they happen to have been born that way but that leads to an important discussion asked of Rabbi Moss and here is his response:
The questioner assumes that I am Jewish by accident. That is false. There is no such thing. The very premise makes no sense.
The postulation “what if I would be born someone else” is as absurd as asking what if a tomato was actually a carrot, or an apple was a Samsung. I am what I am and I can be no one else. My family, my birthplace, my heritage – this is me.
My soul was chosen to be born into a Jewish family. This means that I am the product of thousands of years of Jewishness. I may question it. But it is who I am.
Sometimes a question is a question. And sometimes a question is a cop out. Asking “what if I were someone else?” is an example of the latter.
But even that probably comes from my Jewishness. Questioning our beliefs is an age old Jewish practice we inherited from our forebears. You are born Jewish and you are born questioning. And with all the questions and all the challenges over all the generations, Judaism is still standing strong.
You and I, and all Jews of today, are living testament to the eternity of Judaism. Just by you being you, and me being me.
Rabbi Moss and Rabbi Mendel Bluming
Here’s a thought:
Call him for help.
When you visit him, put aside the illness as if it didn’t exist for a moment, and ask him for some advice. Think of his region of expertise and talent and tell him you need his assistance.
He is an actor and you are a drama teacher. Ask him how he would approach a difficult scene or how to present a particular character. This will be more than just telling him “you matter and you are needed”, it will be actually making him needed.
Now obviously we are involved here with some serious health issues. They will not go away with a few minutes of conversation. It might not work at all. He may not even be receptive to being asked, or perhaps he is incapable of responding. But if you have even a slight chance of getting through to him, it is well worth the effort. It might give him a short while where he is not being absorbed in his own issues. If he can put his thoughts on someone else for even a short time, that may serve as a little gasp of air, and he may be lifted, if even momentarily, above his darkness.
There are times when the trap of depression or illness is the self-absorption it brings. The best antidote for that is serving others. Help him with a chance to do that. If nothing else, you will have expressed to him that whatever he is going through, he can still contribute to the world, and he is valued enough to be asked. That may be just what he needs to hear.
May he/she get well soon!
Rabbi Mendel Bluming, Maryland and Rabbi Moss, Australia
Rabbi Mendel Bluming serves the community as the Rabbis of the Chabad Shul of Potomac and is often challenged with this question.
Here’s a thought created on Jewish philosophy:
Good is only good for G-d chose it to be. G-d is not chained by anything, and could have chosen otherwise. He could have written “Thou shalt steal,” and “Do not help the poor and needy.” Helping our elders across the street would be the wrong thing to do, but mugging them would be desired.
Now you may say, anyone with a healthy conscience knows that to steal is morally repugnant and helping the needy is a righteous and upright deed. But our conscience is created by G-d also. If morality would be inverted, we would be wired in that direction. Luckily for all those old ladies trying to cross the street in the world, G-d chose the other way around.
Does this mean good isn’t truly good? Is morality nothing more than a whimsical imagination? Not at all. Only humans are impulsive and arbitrary. G-d is absolute. Good is absolutely as reality not because it feels good to me but because the Absolute One made it so. Morality is defined by the infinite model of G-d, not the finite nature of human feelings.
The real quandary is this: without G-d, how can anything be good or evil? Who becomes the decision maker? That’s a really good question
Rabbi Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
There is a known theory that we can gather all we need to know about a person in the first few seconds of greeting them. It is a great theory. There is only one problem with it. It is just a theory 🙂
A person is bigger than meets the eye. We are complicated. We have thoughts and feelings, memories and desires, quirks and foibles. We all have a story and we all have a soul. You can’t notice all this at first glance.
How many times have you been impressed by someone’s at first, only to be disappointed later? And vice versa, how many people have you been pleasantly surprised by after getting to know them better? Even looks are deceiving. A person who you don’t find attractive at first can grow on you as their full picture unravels.
I am sure you would support me in saying that no one can know what you are all about by meeting you once. So give the same treatment to others. Don’t always trust your instincts. They can certainly lead you astray.
Menachem Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss