Don’t Worry - Be Happy!
Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17 )
GOOD MORNING! As we slowly meander towards the end of 2020 – the year that wasn’t – there is genuine hope that we will soon begin to see the light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel.
Experiencing an unprecedented time of national, communal, familial, and personal isolation tends to be difficult on one’s psyche and trying to the spirit. Thus, a key element of the recovery is going to be identifying elements that bring about happiness and restoration of the spirit. This begs the question; how do I achieve happiness and, perhaps most importantly, how do I know know when I am happy?
Once the world begins to return back to normal and we slowly start to reintegrate with others we should carefully examine those relationships. Relationships and interactions with individuals who are innately unhappy can drain one’s own life force, so we carefully have to gauge the toll these relationships take on ourselves.
Though, of course, we should always be there to support our friends and families through tough times and feelings of depression and despair. This reminds me of the following story.
One time a friend from the northeast drove down to visit me in South Florida. After a nice week together he drove back to his home in New York. When he got back he called to tell me that he had achieved something unique. Most people driving from Florida to New York see 10 different states (FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, DE, PA, NJ, and NY), but he actually experienced 11 different states. When I asked him how he managed that, he told me that he was in a “state” of crippling depression.
I told him you can’t count New York twice.
This week’s Torah reading gives us a remarkable insight into life and a fail safe tool for knowing if you are a happy person, as well as how to identify others who are happy as well. First a little background:
Joseph, having being sold into slavery by his older brothers, suffers even further when he is falsely accused of attacking the wife of his master, which leads to an extended jail sentence for him.
During his incarceration he comes across two of Pharaoh’s officers: the wine steward and the baker. Both the baker and the wine steward have enigmatic dreams. Joseph interprets both of their dreams as predictors of future events and, sure enough, events unfold exactly in the manner that Joseph predicted.
This week’s Torah portion opens with Pharaoh himself experiencing two very vivid dreams. In the first, he is standing near the Nile when he sees seven nice looking, healthy cows emerge from the Nile and graze in the marsh grass. Suddenly, another seven cows, ugly and gaunt, emerge from the Nile and eat the healthy and nice looking cows.
He falls asleep again and has a second dream. In this dream he sees seven fat ears of grain growing from a single stalk. Suddenly another seven ears, these being thin and emaciated, grow behind them and swallows up the seven fat ears of grain. He wakes with a start and is very troubled by these dreams.
Joseph is summoned to interpret these dreams and he tells Pharaoh that his country is about to experience seven good years followed by seven years of famine. Just as in the dream, the seven years of famine are going to totally obliterate the seven “good” years.
The great medieval commentator known as Rashi makes an extraordinary comment on this verse; “these (the seven nice looking cows) represent the seven years of satiety whereupon all creations look kindly at one another, no one begrudging anyone else.”
Rashi seems to be changing the very meaning of the verse. Instead of translating “nice looking cows” as handsome cows, which is the literal translation, Rashi explains that it means they look kindly at one another.
Equally perplexing, it is commonly understood that Pharaoh’s dreams represented that there were going to be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Yet Rashi translates the “good years” as years of satiety not years of plenty or years abundance. In interpreting the Torah, Rashi always strives for the simplest and most direct approach, why does he translate these words in such a novel way?
Rashi characterizes the “good” years as years of satiety and not years of abundance for a very simple reason: having an abundance doesn’t mean that one is happy or even satisfied. In other words, abundance and famine aren’t really antonyms as having a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you have enough. Having enough is usually a matter of perspective as we see in Ethics of our Fathers (4:1) “Ben Zoma says – who is a wealthy man? He who his happy with his lot.”
Unfortunately, today many people suffer from an insidious disease known as “Affluenza” – the endless drive to ever acquire more, and it is extremely contagious, infecting everyone around them. This disease is spread by our culture and social media. Regrettably, without the recognition that having more will do very little to make them happier, many people, sadly, sacrifice their lives to this empty pursuit.
Real happiness is achieved from obtaining personal satisfaction within oneself. For this reason, the message sent by the Almighty to Pharaoh is that the seven “good” years will be years of satiation; everyone will appreciate what they have and it will therefore be enough.
But this is a difficult standard to achieve. In fact, many people don’t even know if they are satisfied let alone happy with what they have. Therefore, Rashi imparts a brilliant insight and a lasting life lesson for knowing if you’re a happy person.
As we have said, the years of abundance weren’t measured in quantity but rather in perspective. If you want to know if you’re really happy, closely examine your reaction when you see other people obtain successes. Are you happy for them or are you a little bitter?
When your neighbor gets a new car and you need one as well, are you happy for him or do you begrudge him a little? If your childhood friend suddenly becomes wealthy and buys a beautiful home and takes stunning vacations, are you genuinely happy for her or are you a little bitter? How about if your cousin’s child gets accepted to Harvard while your child is struggling to gain entrance to a local university? Are you happy for them or are you a little bitter?
If the latter, then you aren’t happy or satisfied with your own life. This is why Rashi translates the verse not as “handsome” cows, but rather that they looked kindly at one another. They represented years of satiety because they looked at each other in a kindly manner. That happiness for another’s success is the key indicator that you are satisfied with yourself.
To sum it all up, I believe there are three key elements that everyone can incorporate into their lives that will lead to a lasting happiness. 1) Doing kindnesses for others – focusing on what others need and seeing that they get it gives a person an enormous sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
(As a rule “givers” are always happier than “takers” for a very simple reason: they are in absolute control of their environment – they control the interaction because they are initiating it. By contrast, a taker is always frustrated; for he is constantly waiting for the largesse of another.)
2) Focus on being appreciative of what you have. Internalizing a genuine thankfulness to the Almighty for everything with which you have been blessed will lead you to satisfaction – and you will instantly be transformed to that “wealthy” person, as Ben Zoma stated in Ethics of Our Fathers.
3) Live and be absolutely present in the moment. This is sometimes called mindfulness. Whatever you are doing should be your sole focus at the time. If you are talking to loved ones don’t glance at the television or newspaper. If you are eating, don’t answer emails at the same time. Savor your food, appreciate the opportunity to have it, and the ability to taste it. Truly drink in all the beauty in your life – it might be a stunning sunrise, a quiet walk in the woods, an inspirational book, or a meaningful conversation with a friend or loved one. Enjoy your life! We only get one shot at it.
Mikeitz, Genesis 41:1 - 44:17
Pharaoh dreams of cows and sheaves and demands for someone to interpret his dreams. The wine butler remembers Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. They bring Joseph from the jail. Pharaoh acknowledges the truth of Joseph's interpretation (that there would be seven good years followed by seven years of famine) and raises Joseph to second-in-command of the whole country with the mandate to prepare for the famine.
Ten of Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to buy food; Joseph recognizes them, but they don't recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies and puts them through a series of machinations in order to get them to bring his brother Benjamin to Egypt. Then Joseph frames Benjamin for stealing his special wine goblet.
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Miami 5:15 - Cape Town 7:37 - Guatemala 5:18
Hong Kong 5:26 - Honolulu 5:35 - Johannesburg 6:35
Los Angeles 4:26 - London 3:36 - Melbourne 8:17
Mexico 5:41 - Moscow 3:38 - New York 4:12
Singapore 6:44 - Toronto 4:24
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the PRESENT!