A teaching from Rabbi Steph
February 2, 2024 • 23 Shvat 5784
One of my favorite Jewish teachings comes from the philosopher Maimonides, who lived about 1,000 years ago in Egypt. Writing about Jewish holidays, he highlighted the importance of hospitality, especially towards those on the margins. He points out that joy isn't truly complete unless it's shared.
There are times when my mundane struggles make joy feel far away. Sometimes, the only thing that can help me gain perspective is to remember Maimonides' teaching-–to seek out those who are the loneliest or the least fortunate. It isn’t always easy and, just like anyone else, I don’t always do it. But when I am able to, it puts a new spin on the idea that misery loves company, because my own difficult moments actually seem lighter when I turn my attention to the needs of others.
In the Talmud, a collection of teachings from about 1,500 years ago based on the Torah, we find a story about Rabbi Beroka. In the marketplace, he encounters Elijah the Prophet, the same one we invite to our Passover seder tables. Rabbi Beroka asks Elijah if anyone in the marketplace was making a difference in the world. At first, they don’t find anyone, but then Elijah points out two brothers. Rabbi Beroka learns that the brothers are jesters who bring joy to those who are down and help mend the rifts between people in conflict.
Perhaps joy, found in everyday moments and shared through laughter or kindness, can turn the ordinary into something special, nudging us to view each day as a chance to lift others up and, in the process, be lifted ourselves. Perhaps everyday joy isn’t something that we can "find." Sometimes, it’s something that we have to seek, and sometimes, it’s something that we have to carve out of mundane or even painful moments. Indeed, joy and sorrow walk hand in hand, teaching us that our greatest moments of happiness often stem from our understanding and empathy for each other's struggles.
Next week, the Hebrew month of Adar starts. Because the holiday of Purim falls in Adar, it is traditionally considered the most joyous month of the Jewish calendar. As Adar begins, may we find balance, embracing both the light and shadows of our lives and discovering that in the shared experience of joy and sorrow, we find our truest connection to one another.