Rosh Hashana is the day of judgment for all humankind. It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve—in other words, the birthday of everyone’s great, great, great (and so on), grandparents. It is a day of awe and fear and also a day of celebration.
Rosh Hashana is also a day of great self-awareness. It is a time to recognize who we are as individuals, as members of a community and the Jewish people, and as members of humanity. It is a day to invest fully in becoming aware of our relationship with God.
Even if you are upset and unhappy, you can at the very least put on a happy face. At first you may not feel genuinely happy in your heart. But, if you act happy you will eventually feel true happiness and joy. —Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
It goes against everything we’re taught in modern psychology. The experts tell us: Get in touch with your real feelings. Don’t repress your real feelings. Express your authentic feelings.
Okay, to a certain extent, they may be right. If you are hurt or suffering you may have to take some time to understand why you feel the way you do.
But the “why” of your emotions has a spiritual cause. And that’s why unhappiness needs a spiritual cure.
Life can sometimes feel like you’re climbing a mountain of broken glass, emotionally speaking. No matter what has happened in your life or not happened, no matter what’s been given to you or taken away, no matter what you have or what you lack, the ability to be happy is actually a skill you can develop. Even if it seems to take super-human effort.
In other words, true and lasting happiness is independent of your life situation. (For the most part, at least until you develop happiness-building skills.)
Spending time immersed in the prayerful-meditation called hisbodedus, where we talk directly to God as one would to the most loving of friends or parents,changes how we experience the world. Suddenly ordinary objects glimpsed in passing offer up rich meaning.
On a sunny day this past June in Uman, Ukraine, on the way to the Tziyun (the holy burial place) of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, I saw a door, splashed with shadow and light. It looked like the kind of door the princess in a fairy tale is told not to open…but does anyway.
But suppose the one telling the princess not to open the door doesn’t have her best interests at heart? What if the warning came from the yetzer hara, the evil inclination? Suppose the yetzer hara not only giving the princess a false warning, but is actually trying to prevent her from moving into holiness? Suppose what lies beyond that door is hisbodedus?
Later, I passed another building, this time with an eye-catching window. The sages teach that whenever possible, one should daven (pray*) in a room with windows, so if one’s attention lapses, she can look up to Heaven and regain inspiration. We may have to create our own window, maybe even knock a big old hole in one of the walls of our house, especially if that house has become a fortress. Remember, if you can’t see Heaven, light can’t enter.
Doors and windows are sometimes meant to be shut and sometimes meant to be open. We get to choose.
*The sages were referring to the central prayer of the service, as written in a siddur (prayer book.)
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s grandfather was the holy Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the joyous, mystical Chassidic movement. The Rebbe’s grandmother was Udel (also pronounced Aidel), the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter. She was her father’s pride and joy, a learned, holy woman. Udel’s daughter was Fayga, the Rebbe’s mother. Fayga had a profound influence on the Rebbe’s life. We can safely say that Fayga helped him lay the foundation on which he built the palace of his wisdom.
It’s a great mitzvah to be happy, always. — Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Women are more spiritually attuned than men. (It says so in ancient Jewish teachings). We are more understanding, often quick to grasp someone else’s mood or feelings, and more apt to be profoundly moved by the little things in life.
But sometimes, that spiritual sensitivity has another side, a darker side. We’re also more apt to take things hard, struggle with sadness, and a sense of “what if?”
Can you legislate happiness? Can you command it? Perhaps not. But what you can do is train your mind and heart to be joyful. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov gives us the tools to make this life (and the next) a happier one.
There are so many creative, intelligent, and sensitive women who would like to live life with less pain, more optimism. Rebbe Nachman’s teachings help us do this. Just come along for the journey.