April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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The Key to Celebrating Thanksgiving Each and Every Day

In thinking about the theme for this year’s series, my decision was impacted by the recent events in the life of our family. As many of my readers know, this summer we suffered the overwhelming loss of my twin sister, Adele, z”l (see August submissions). Yet, on the positive side, our family witnessed the amazing response of acceptance, demonstrated by Adele and her husband Dov, to their 17+ year journey with Parkinson’s. In doing so, we had the zechut of learning how to hold onto one’s simchat hachayim, or joy of life. May Hashem continue to bless us with happy times, and use the lessons of our Torah and real-time role models, such as Adele and Dov, to learn how to protect our charge of simchat hachayim in the face of the small challenges Hashem sends our way, as a vehicle of growth. During the Yom Tov of Sukkot, Jack and I had the zechut of having our daughter Penina’s family join us in Yerushalayim, and it was here that we got to test our ability to experience joy during this difficult time. On the one hand, we experienced the joy of breathing in the kedushat ha’aretz that went right to our souls, coupled with the joy of watching our children and grandchildren have the time of their lives. At the same time, we were in “preparation mode” for my sister’s hakamat hamatzeivah (unveiling). It was then that I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on this year in my analysis of the “psychological insights” the Torah offers us on a weekly basis, parsha by parsha.

Our rabbis teach us that there are two essential vehicles through which we can connect with and converse with Hakadosh Baruch Hu daily. It is via the Torah that Hashem speaks to us, and through tefillot that we can converse with Him. Just about every parent has the delightful experience of teaching their children the Modeh Ani prayer as soon as they can imitate the words that express our gratitude toward Hakadosh Baruch Hu for returning our holy souls to us. Yet, despite the “attitude of gratitude” with which we begin our day, we quickly forget that we are meant to celebrate our “Thanksgiving” to God all day long. This is because we all fall short in prioritizing the values of hakarat hatov, ahavat habriyot and shalom bayit. This can be very serious because it is a sign of how easy it is to forget the most important pillars of support we can lean on: appreciation of God and mankind, as well as sustaining peace in the household, peace in the community and all the places and spaces we occupy. On the other hand, if we prioritize and hold on to the gift of these pillars, we raise our level of spirituality and holiness, and at the same time protect our ability to experience joy, even in the face of the relatively small annoyances, disappointments and perceived failures that come our way.

As I prepared for Sukkot with Adele in mind, it became crystal clear that a first step in the process is to understand that joy is relative, and that being happy is less a description of a character trait or an intrinsic emotion and more a choice we make. Indeed, every day we have access to the most amazing “trainers” in attaining this spiritual feat. They are found in: (1) the tefillot we recite (2) lessons of the Torah we learn (3) the Yomim Tovim we celebrate, and (4) the real-time role models in our family and friendship circles. In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The Festival of Insecurity,” he spent a great deal of time on this topic. He began by responding to the irony that Sukkot, reflecting zeman simchateinu, a time of joy, also reflects the themes of insecurity and vulnerability. According to some, the sukkah is meant to remind us of the miracle in the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory that protected us during our journey in the midbar. Viewed through this lens, the source of our joy and celebration during this Yom Tov echoes our understanding of the miracles God sends us and that He is always there to protect us from harm, when we are vulnerable. He also directs our attention to another perspective on how we can view the irony in the mixed emotions this Yom Tov evokes.

From the very beginning of our history, with Avraham, and then as a nation, we singularly chose Hakadosh Baruch Hu and followed Him through the midbar. Rabbi Sacks believes that we as Jews are: “… the world’s ‘experts in insecurity, having lived with it for millennia, in the worst of times; and Sukkot is the extreme response to this insecurity. It is a Yom Tov when we leave behind the safety of our houses, and sit in a sukkah mamash, in huts exposed to the elements. To be able to do so and still say ‘Zeman Simchateinu, our festival of joy,’ is the extreme of achievement of faith, the ultimate antidote to fear”; and I would like to add that it is the sure road to achieving happiness even in the face of annoyances, disappointments, failures, uncertainty and other perceived or real challenges, big or small. Via these responses we learn to use our challenges as a vehicle through which we can connect with Hashem and others in a deeper way, grow stronger spiritually and emotionally, and come out an even better version of the individual, couple, parent, and member of klal Yisrael that we were before—just as Bnei Yisrael did when they were ready to enter the land.

I believe that with these insights Rabbi Sacks is encouraging us to delve deeply into our Yomim Tovim, as well as our tefillot and our Torah, in order to learn the lessons of our history, which teach us that the capacity to do so is intrinsic to the Jewish soul. He explains: “I have often argued that faith is not certainty: faith is the courage to live with uncertainty. That is what Sukkot represents… If what we celebrate is not the Clouds of Glory, but the vulnerability of actual huts, open to the wind, the rain and the cold…faith is the ability to rejoice in the midst of instability, insecurity and change… towards unknown destinations.” This theme, I believe is also expressed throughout the Torah readings during the Yomim Nora’im and Sukkot, and appears throughout the weekly Torah readings beginning with the first parsha, Parshat Bereishit. As if that wasn’t enough, He sends each one of us real-time role models who are endowed with the same holy neshamot He gifted us with, and at the same time share the human frailties we possess. He does so because He understands that for some of us our Torah heroes and the gedolim in our generation and in our communities are too intimidating for us to emulate. Yet, for some reason, these real-time role models, whom we can relate to, have found the way to transcend these challenges, and we are more open to learning from them. When this happens, it is our charge to recognize the gift they offer us.

In our family we have but to look at the manner in which Adele and Dov accepted Hashem’s plan for them and did not allow the diagnosis and ravages of Parkinson’s to inform their lives. In all of the hespedim at the levayah we heard so many stories about their amazing emunah and resilience. Moreover, it was because they were so committed to one another that as Adele’s capacities diminished, the love between them did not. L’hefech, Dov’s devotion to my sister increased exponentially with each challenge they faced. He always retained his love for her and continued to see her as the beautiful, brilliant, spiritual woman he married. So, the question is, how can one attain this attitude of gratitude, appreciation and simcha in the best of times and worst of times?

As I was thinking about the above insights, there is a great deal of comfort we can derive from the lessons in our Torah, tefillot, and Yomim Tovim, as well as the real-time role models in our lives. Indeed, it is a comfort to know that along with the challenges, life offers much joy, and that our Torah and real-time role models, like Adele, a”h, and Dov, bear testimony to mankind’s intrinsic ability to sustain one’s simchat hachayim.

May we continue to be blessed with good health and happiness, and at the same time be mindful and take comfort from knowing that it is possible to experience joy and sustain a quality of life, traversing our own unique path, moving forward, rather than backward, in every step we take. In our family, it is now our charge to help each other, continuing to tap into Adele’s legacy and following the example of Dov, our “lamed vavnick,” our role model. We know that they were exceptional as a couple, and Dov continues to be there for all of us as a role model to emulate in his character and commitments to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, family and klal Yisrael. May Hashem bless Dov and our entire family, friends and klal Yisrael, with happiness, health and long life, and may we derive comfort from the certainty that Adele, z”l, will continue to be the most amazing role model in giving and loving and sustaining one’s emunah and simchat hachayim, as well as an advocate for us in beseeching Hashem to bring on our geulah, speedily and in our times.

Looking forward to continuing and expanding on this theme parsha by parsha, tefillah by tefillah, and Yom Tov by Yom Tov as we traverse our spiritual journey this year!


Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with special training in imago relational therapy. She can be reached at [email protected].

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