The world’s oldest man, Israel (Yisrael) Kristal, died last week in Israel shortly before his 114th(!) birthday. His life, despite being extremely difficult during certain periods, contains at least three important tips about Jewish happiness (simcha).
Sorry I haven’t posted to Seeking Simcha in a few months…I fell.
But then I started getting stressed and very busy at my high-tech job, triggering a pattern of dysfunctional eating (something I have struggled with in the past). I began binging at restaurants and eating until I literally felt sick.
My name is displayed on a banner that hangs in my high school gymnasium. Nearly 20 years ago, I finished my three years of varsity high school basketball in Massachusetts having scored over 1,000 points.
At the time, I was the second-leading scorer in school history. A few years later, after others players had also broken that barrier, the school created a banner for its 1,000-point scorers.
If the high school version of me had known that one day his name would hang on a banner in the gym, he would have been ECSTATIC. I got into basketball because I craved recognition.
I’m temporarily leaving my job on Tuesday to serve reserve duty (“miluim” in Hebrew) in the Israeli army for a few days. It’s always an honor to serve in the Israeli army, even in my limited role, and doing so usually reminds me of an important happiness lesson…
I made Aliyah at the age of 24, so I went through abbreviated basic training with older immigrants. A small group of us were tasked with learning how to drive tractors and bulldozers for rescue purposes (lifting up big pieces of a collapsed building to free civilians trapped underneath, etc.).
As part of this training under the auspices of The Home Front Command, we were required to get a special driver’s license to operate the heavy machinery. This meant passing a driving test and then a written theory test. Because I suffer from low self-esteem, I immediately started to panic.
It’s a little strange to manage a blog about simcha (Jewish joy) in the aftermath of a devastating terror attack. What is the appropriate response the day after the massacre that took the lives of five Israelis at a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood yesterday?
My immediate response was to wake up and pray this morning. To wrap myself in my tallit and bind myself with tefillin, just as the victims had done shortly before they were massacred (it’s important to note that one police officer was also killed and others were wounded).
I just failed another “lunchtime challenge.” A few months ago, I started working full-time at an organization that doesn’t have a cafeteria. Our building is surrounded by restaurants, so most employees head downstairs to grab a bite.
It sounds simple enough, unless you are a person who struggles with binge eating. I start obsessively thinking about what I am going to eat almost immediately upon arriving at work. I tell myself, “Today will be different,” but more often than not, I order fatty, unhealthy food in large quantities. Because I’m embarrassed about my terrible habits, I usually eat alone, in my office.
In the Land of Israel, it is possible to draw the joy of holiness from the site of joy itself. – Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel
Normally you wouldn’t expect a blog about simcha (Jewish joy) to focus on a recent passing. But the death of Keith Berman (z’l), whom I had the pleasure of working for when he was the director of the Young Judaea/FZY Year Course in Israel, is relevant to this blog because I saw firsthand how much joy he brought into the world.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, had a famous oral teaching:
Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “For my sake was the world created.”
But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “I am but dust and ashes.”*
I am starting this blog in October 2014 in a state of sadness.
There are so many blessings in my life and don’t get me wrong, I experience many moments of great happiness. And yet I’m all too often unhappy. I have been binge eating in secret to dull my feelings, although I’m not sure how much of a secret it is, because I’m overweight and out of shape (I’m on blood pressure medication at the age of 38).