Do you want to be happier? The creation story found in the first weekly Torah portion, Bereishit, has much to teach us about simcha (Jewish happiness). Here are four important lessons:
The Importance of Gratitude
SEVEN different times during the story of how G-d created the universe, we read some variation of, “And G-d saw that it was good.” Why is this repeated so often? Of course G-d knows his creations were good, HE created them! This repetition is to teach us gratitude. Gratitude for natural wonders, such as the beautiful stars:
If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The continual focus on G-d’s creation being “good” in Bereishit also teaches us gratitude for the natural order and even for our ability to emulate our Creator by creating. Constantly reflecting on what we are grateful for will make us happier. Gratitude has been found by Judaism (and pretty much all religions), as well as modern social science, to be one of the main generators of happiness.
On the fourth day of creation, we read that G-d “made the two great luminaries. The greater luminary to dominate the day and the lesser luminary to dominate the night.” This, of course, refers to the sun and the moon. But a Midrash teaches us that it wasn’t always this way. Originally, the plan was for the sun and the moon to be equal. According to the Midrash, though, the moon complained and asked G-d if two kings can share a crown. G-d’s response was to shrink the moon.
When we covet what others have and get jealous, we diminish ourselves (and our own happiness).
You Were Created in G-d’s Image!
Later on in Bereishit, we find out that “G-d created man in His image.” What an amazing insight in terms of the self-esteem we should possess. How can anyone possibly feel bad about themselves or their abilities after learning we were created in G-d’s image? Like Him, we have the power to help others, to perform acts of kindness, to create, to reason, to exercise free will, etc. There is a reason you are here!
But Don’t Forget to Rest…
On the seventh day, after all that creating, G-d rested. He didn’t need to take a break, he’s G-d. Much like the first point above, where G-d demonstrated gratitude for our instruction, here G-d rested for our benefit — to show us the spiritual importance of maintaining a day of rest.
I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of humanity where people needed a day of rest more than we do today. Most of us are slaves to our computers and devices and we hardly ever disconnect from the matrix. It is crucial to set aside a day for spiritual rejuvenation, time with your spouse and children, reflection, and also physical rest.
Those are just four happiness tips in Bereishit, but there are potentially many more. Please let me know if you have other takeaways from this week’s Torah portion…