A few nights ago I went to see “Eat, Pray, Love”. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a movie of this introspective caliber got made. The script clearly defied the typical outline of today’s movie making recipe for telling a story. Usually when a movie is made there are three vital characters. The main character who the story is about, the dynamic character that goes on the adventure with the main character and the opponent who messes with the main character’s experience. What was interesting about this film, was that the dynamic character changed with every different country the main character arrived in, which is hardly ever done in movies, and the opponent character was the main character herself, rather than another person with an evil plot and a twisted view on life. She was her own worst enemy when it came to finding her own self happiness and her own self enlightenment.
After reading the book and watching the movie, I came to realize why I love this story so much. It is the perfect human recipe. I realized after experiencing this month in particular that Eat, Pray, Love is all of our life stories. We spend a lifetime practicing the art of searching for that self-enlightenment in every Jewish ritual we are fortunate enough to partake in.
We begin the Eating part on Rosh Hashanah, the head of the new year, as we taste the sweet fragrant candied honey shmeared on the tart apple. We continue with a day of introspection and prayer on Yom Kippur. Much like Elizabeth, I also found myself fidgeting during the prayer service and trying my darnedest to concentrate on the words and the meaning of the melody vs my to-do list and my list of grievances that were clearly interrupting my praying groove. Unfortunately I didn’t have a young Indian girl to focus on who was freaked out about marrying a stranger, but I did find it helpful to focus on the friends and family in my life who need a better year than their last. And finally, we enter Sukkot which is all about love as we are embraced with joy and love by Gd’s makeshift hug he calls The Sukkah.
As the holidays come to a close, may we all continue to experience our own Eat, Pray, Love stories. Lucky for us, we don’t have to wait a year, as we are fortunate enough to tap into it each week with Shabbos, reminding us, that eating, praying and loving can be duplicated and practiced on a regular basis. We don’t even have to fly across the world to find it.
In light of all of that, I am still having a harder time this year in finding the joy for this year’s Sukkot holiday, being that my dear father isn’t here to taste my sweet and sour cabbage borsht that was his favorite, so I asked my husband to share his own thoughts about the ability to find joy even in a time that may not feel so joyous. Funny- enough, he watched “Eat, Pray, Love,” and was also fascinated that this film got made, stating- “It was the most boring chick flick, that you have ever made me sit through.” But I made it up to him when I made my very own home-made pizza the following night for dinner. As they say in Italian, “Delizioso!”
A big thank you to my dear husband who took the time to write this beautiful essay, and to my late father-in-law Reb Aaron Yisroel Tombosky, of Blessed Memory for inspiring our joy even at times when a joyous smile can seem difficult to muster.
TEARS OF JOY
By, Rabbi Robbie Tombosky
Every Jewish holiday has it’s own unique characteristic and hallmark. It is through this hallmark that we are able to connect with the spiritual energy of that holiday and channel the blessings of that holiday into our lives and our daily existence.
Our sages have taught that the hallmark of Succoth and Simchat Torah is the characteristic of Simcha – joy and happiness. The Torah actually commands us on three separate occasions to celebrate the holiday of Succoth and Simchat Torah with joy. In our prayers we refer to the holiday as “Z’man Simchatainu” – the time of our rejoicing.
While happiness and joy are truly a wonderful hallmark for this holiday, the commandment to experience happiness and joy seems to present a very practical problem: What if one’s life circumstances do not lend themselves to feelings of happiness and joy?
After all, many of us may be experiencing real and significant challenges, hardships or pain during the holiday of Succoth and Simchat Torah. So how can we be expected to experience joy while experiencing life challenges that seem to be antithetical to the experience of joy?
In truth, the commandment to experience joy on Succoth and Simchat Torah, in spite of life’s challenging circumstances, teaches us a fundamental lesson on how to experience life to it’s fullest and the secret to happiness.
However, to understand this lesson we must first understand the definition of ‘Joy and Happiness’. As a society, it is hard to find another emotion that is as misunderstood as the emotion of joy and happiness. In fact, a quick search for ‘Joy and Happiness’ in the self-help category of Amazon.com returns over 27,000 titles on the subject!
As we look to the Torah for the definition of ‘Joy and Happiness’ we find an intriguing Talmud (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 4:2) that states, “There is no joy greater than the resolution of doubts”.
This seemingly understated Talmudic statement holds within it the secret to true joy and happiness. Although a conventional thesaurus would say the antonym of the word happy is sad – the Talmud would say that the antonym of happy is doubt!
According to the Torah, the only bona fide obstacle to experiencing joy and happiness in one’s life is the experience of doubt and uncertainty – joy and doubt simply cannot coexist!
However, true joy and happiness can coexist with hardship, sadness and even pain.
I personally experienced this coexistence of happiness, sadness and pain in my own life just a couple of years ago during the Holiday of Succoth and Simchat Torah. My father, of blessed memory, fought a life threatening illness for the last twelve years of his life. Just before Succoth he finally succumbed to the illness and was hospitalized with the grim prognosis of only days to live. In respect for my father’s wishes to spend Succoth with his family, he was released from the hospital and allowed to spend the holiday at home under the care of home hospice.
It was a most sad and somber holiday; my father was unable to move more than a couple of feet at a time, he was on heavy medication and in constant need of oxygen as he fought for each and every breath.
Then something amazing happened.
On Simchat Torah, the pinnacle and climax of the holiday, we brought a Sefer Torah to the house so my father could participate in the Simchat Torah celebration. As my father rested in the easy chair, holding the Torah tight in his embrace, all of his children and grandchildren spontaneously and in unison encircled him and began to sing and dance!
As my father held the Torah close to his heart, with us dancing around him, his face shined with a smile so radiant that it seemed to originate in his soul, fill his heart with joy and then burst forth from his lips. And as his smile stretched from ear to ear, tears of joy streamed down his face.
The blaze of my father’s joy radiated so powerfully that it effortlessly ignited the joy of everyone in the room and we danced for what felt like an eternity – watching my father experience great pain, great sadness and great joy all at once!
After the dancing, I asked my father what he had experienced during the Simchat Torah Hakafah (dancing). The words that my father shared with me that night have become etched in my psyche; although he was sad to be dying and in immense physical pain – at that very moment, holding his holy Torah with all of his children and grandchildren dancing around him, he had a moment of clarity. A clarity that, if even for just that moment, removed all doubt and fear from his existence.
My father had a vivid realization that his life was significant and purposeful. A realization that, through his connection to the Torah and his meaningful influence on the lives of his children and grandchildren, his significance and purpose would continue on for generations to come. It was indeed that moment of clarity – the resolution of all doubt – that brought him the greatest joy.
Each and every one of us has the ability to experience that same clarity and joy this Simchat Torah, regardless of our current circumstances. With thoughtfulness and reflection we can each replace the vacuum of doubts, fears, and anxieties that cloud and blur our vision with the faith, clarity and purposefulness that is forever present in the depths and recesses of our hearts and souls.
And as we enter the holiday of Simchat Torah with a renewed sense of significance, meaning, clarity and purpose we can experience the truest joy that life has to offer – dancing with our Torah, on our holiday, with our children and grandchildren. And as we celebrate by dancing on earth, our fathers, mothers and grandparents will celebrate with us, dancing in heaven – with tears of joy streaming down their shining faces.