Emotional Health

Much More than Joy

2More than Joy 14.6

I wrote today's post as an encouragement for myself...

In case you don’t yet know any Hebrew, I want to teach you a vital Hebrew word – Simcha. It's much more than joy, more than happiness, more than gladness. It's the deep inner feeling of contentment and gratification, no matter what's going on in your life at the moment or how difficult things are. Simcha - once again, the deep inner feeling of contentment and gratification - is the most dependable indication of spiritual and emotional health. After emuna, simcha is the next word to add to your vocabulary. What's more, emuna and simcha are the dream couple. Just saying both words already makes us feel happier.

The Rambam teaches us that a person can influence him or herself by his or her own actions. If we force ourselves to smile, the first time or two will be mechanical, but the third smile will be for real. So wherever you are right now – in the office, on the subway, in the kitchen, in your living room or even in a hospital bed, let's continue the day with a smile; yes – right now, cherished friend, put a smile on your face. When you're happy, your brain functions much better, and you'll more readily internalize what we’re talking about. So look in the mirror, show us your teeth, and pretend you're doing a toothpaste commercial.

Happiness is a statement that we like the way Hashem runs the world. Happiness is therefore the  key to success, for when a person is happy, Hashem is with him in measure-for-measure fashion.

Sadness causes worry and anxiety. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev says that all sickness and disease stem from lack of happiness. Ask any doctor: when a person is happy, not only the heart but the whole body functions at its optimum. In fact, the Rambam, history's greatest doctor, teaches that sickness come from worry and anxiety.

The holy Zohar teaches that sadness is the worst transgression in the Torah. That sounds a little strange, so we really should ask why. How can sadness be worse than eating on Yom Kippur or violating the Shabbat?

Suppose a person accidentally turns on the lights on Shabbat. He or she is disappointed in themselves, but they ask forgiveness the next time they pray and finished. With teshuva, the blemish of a misdeed is totally rectified. The sin has been cleansed and wiped away.

But, sadness is heresy – an expression of dissatisfaction with Hashem's way of running the world, which is none other than denial of Hashem. For that reason, the Zohar says that sadness is the worse type of idol worship. Just as Rebbe Nachman says it’s a mitzvah to be happy, conversely it's a terrible sin to be sad. Sad people neither pray nor do teshuva, so with each day of sadness, they drift further and further away from Hashem.

The basis of genuine joy is contentment with your own lot in life, with whatever Hashem gives you. How do you achieve this? The one-word answer is Emuna

Many people write me and tell me that they have emuna, yet they're still not happy. By emuna, they mean that they have a general belief in Hashem; the type of emuna one needs to attain happiness isn't the living-room discussion emuna, but the emuna in your heart that everything Hashem does is for the very best. With that level of emuna, worry falls; when worry falls, a person's tension and anxiety levels fall way down and the heart becomes free to be happy.

To attain genuine joy, a basic belief in Hashem isn't enough. We must believe that everything Hashem does is for the best. Until a person believes that everything is for the best, he doesn't have emuna.

How do we arrive at the level that we believe that everything is for the best? We speak to Hashem and ask him to help us observe and understand to the limits of our God-given capabilities how everything in our lives is for the very best. And where understanding kicks out, emuna kicks in.

Have a more than a joyous Shabbat! Warmest regards and blessings, LB


Keep on Walkin'

Walking 13.5
My favorite sport happens to be the worlds #1 fitness exercise, which does just as much for soul as it does for body. This is the only fitness activity that the whole family can participate in together, from 2-year-old toddler Mikey to 102-year-old great grandfather Morris. This is an activity that's joint-and-muscle friendly as well as fantastic for your heart and lungs. It's walking. If we add the technique of brisker strides and more vigorous hand and arm motion, we move up to the power walking category and burn all the more calories, just like we do in any other cardio exercise.

If you want to maximize the benefits of walking and prevent injuries, then your form and posture must be proper. Like in any other exercise, the better the form, the more beneficial the exercise. Use this form & posture checklist to evaluate yourself:

Proper Walking Form

1. Keep your head upright and eyes forward. Texting or looking at your smartphone destroys this important element of good walking form.

2. Engage your core by pulling your navel in as if you're trying to make it touch your spine.

3. Imagine that a string from heaven is linked to the crown of your skull pulling your head up and extending your neck. This method is a strong remedy to the kyphosis that people develop from sitting at a desk all day long.

4. Drop your shoulders and enable the back of your neck to touch the collar of your shirt. Your neck muscles should be relaxed.

5. Don't slump forward; if you feel like you are slumping, readjust your body position so that you conform to the above four points.

6. Swing your arms gently; the more you add arm motion, the faster you'll walk and the more calories you'll burn in a particular time period. Don't go crazy though - your hands shouldn't rise higher than your collarbone.

7. Walk with feet aligned in a straight manner rather than waddling from side to side. To do this, make sure your hips are moving forward rather than side to side.

8. Don't tiptoe; with every step, land on your heel and roll your foot forward. Comfortable shoes are a must!

Benefits of Walking

1. Great for burning belly fat.

2. Anyone can do it!

3. Lowers risk of hip fracture, especially with women.

4. Great for heart and lung health.

5. Wonderful for those who cannot or may not engage in more strenuous activities.

6. Fantastic for mental functioning, especially concentration, decision-making, self-composure and memory.

7. Wards off anxiety and depression while improving self-esteem.

8. Retards aging and increases longevity.

If we add personal prayer to our walking routine, and speak to the Almighty while sharing everything that's on our heart with Him, we have the greatest body-mind-soul health enhancer on earth. Try it; although we recommend 60-minutes a day, there are huge benefits for 30 minutes daily on up. KEEP ON WALKING - you'll love it. Every blessing, LB


Daily Centering

Centering 29.4
Here's something I picked up from a health-and-fitness coach's manual from one of the recent health-coach refresher courses I took (the bold-letter emphases are mine):

"The very first way to combat stress is to have your clients begin the exercise of taking 10 minutes each day - to simply sit and center themselves with their thoughts. They can find a quiet room somewhere and as they do, they should simply clear their mind or let their thoughts take place and then release them. This is a form of meditation and it can do wonders for helping to restore central nervous system balance, reducing ongoing stress and helping them feel that much better on a day to day basis. If they can’t do this for 10 minutes, wonderful! At any rate, 5 minutes will suffice. Any amount of time done daily or as close to daily a possible will have a very positive influence on their stress levels."

I don't know how many other health-and-fitness coaches follow the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, but the author of the above manual is right on the money. If 10 minutes daily ("5 minutes will suffice") do so much good for a person's nervous system, stress levels and overall good feeling, then imagine what 30, 45 or even 60 minutes a day of secluded, intimate conversing and connecting with the Creator accomplish! This is quality time, alone with the Almighty, where you collect your thoughts, clarify issues and simply recharge body and soul. I like to do my daily sessions while walking, especially somewhere secluded and beautiful where heart and soul open wide up. It's the key to self-composure, happiness and sanity. Try it - you'll love it.


"Dayenu": The Key to Emotional Health

Dayenu 19.4
Our sages teach that a truly rich person is he or she who is happy with their lot in life. The main characteristic of happy people is gratitude -  they are grateful for their blessings in life, material and spiritual. One of my favorite expressions is that grateful people are never bitter, yet bitter people are never grateful. 

Passover, and particularly Seder Night, is a lovely way of expressing our gratitude to the Almighty. A prime example is the "Dayenu" sonnet, which shows our appreciation in the loveliest manner.

This year, let's stop and elaborate on Dayenu at our Seder table. The bold letters below is our translation of the original prayer; our explanation appears in the adjacent the normal letters. No numbers appear in the original sonnet, but we added numbers to show the cumulative effect - feel free to print this and attach it to your Haggadah:

How many cumulative favors has the Holy One bestowed upon us!

  1. If He had taken us out from Egypt, and had not executed judgments against them - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! Sometimes people are saved from the hands of their oppressors but they don't get to see their downfall. Hashem not only enabled us to see the downfall of the Egyptians, but in executing severe punishments against them, He warns our subsequent oppressors that they will attain a similar fate; history shows that they always do.
  2. If He had executed judgments against them, and not against their idols - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! The other pagans of the world may have maintained that Hashem was mighty against flesh-and-blood but powerless against their idols, Heaven forbid. By destroying them, Hashem showed otherwise. As our G-d, His might heightens the prestige of those who believe in Him.
  3. If He had demolished their idols, and had not killed their first-born - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! The pagans and the heretics still had room to deny the concept of Divine providence. When Hashem smote the firstborn of Egypt, He demonstrated a doubly miraculous measure of Divine providence, differentiating between those who were firstborn to their fathers and those who were not, and between the differentiating between Jewish and non-Jewish firstborns.
  4. If He had killed their first-born, and had not given us their wealth - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! As if it wasn't sufficient that Hashem freed us from slavery in Egypt, He gave us all the money retroactively that we should have been paid for our labors.
  5. If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! The weak believers might continue to maintain that our receiving the Egyptians' wealth was a simple matter of social justice and fate; splitting the sea showed the world how Hashem personally overrides nature, fate and logic to perform miraculous deeds for Israel.
  6. If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! Here, Hashem shows us a miracle upon miracle. Sure, the sea split but the seabed should have been a muddy mess and most difficult to traverse. It was bone-dry for Israel.
  7. If He had taken us through the sea on dry land, and had not drowned our oppressors therein - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! Even though the sea-bed was bone-dry for Israel, it returned to its natural muddy status once the Egyptians entered it. Immediately, their chariots were bogged down in the heavy mad and once they were trapped, the walls of the sea crashed down on their heads.
  8. If He had drowned our oppressors therein, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! If it were not enough that Hashem rescued us from our oppressors, He continued to sustain us miraculously – not in Iowa or Switzerland, but in the desolate Sinai Desert!
  9. If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and had not fed us the manna - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! Hashem could have fed us bread and water, but instead, He miraculously provided the sublime delicacy of manna, the Heaven-sent bread, which itself was miraculous in many ways. It tasted whatever you wanted it to taste like.
  10. If He had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! Hashem gave us a double portion of manna on Friday so that we would not have to worry about where our food will come from on Shabbat. Who can estimate the priceless gift of our weekly day of rest for body and soul, ever so conducive to getting close to Hashem.
  11. If He had given us the Shabbat, and had not brought us in proximity to Mount Sinai - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! To bring us even closer, Hashem revealed Himself to our entire nation on Mount Sinai.
  12. If He had brought us in proximity to Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! If it wasn't enough that Hashem revealed Himself to us, He gave us the Holy Book that is the secret of our timelessness despite all that has befallen us.
  13. If He had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! As if the Torah wasn't the most precious gift that Hashem could give us, He brought us especially to the Land of Emuna and its inherent holiness, the ideal place on earth for fulfilling the Torah's commandments.
  14. If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and had not built for us the Holy Temple - Dayenu, it would have been enough for us! We now await for the imminant rebuilding of our third and final Holy Temple, may it be built soon in our days, amen!

Thus how much more so should we be grateful to the Omnipresent One for the doubled and redoubled goodness that He has bestowed upon us; for He has brought us out of Egypt, and carried out judgments against them, and against their idols, and smote their first-born, and gave us their wealth, and split the sea for us, and took us through it on dry land, and drowned our oppressors in it, and supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and fed us the manna, and gave us the Shabbat, and brought us before Mount Sinai, and gave us the Torah, and brought us into the land of Israel and built for us the Beit Habechirah (Holy Temple) to atone for all our sins.

Rabbi Judah the Prince, who codified the Mishna and whom many consider the author of the Haggadah, listed fourteen particular favors, no more and no less. Why? He quotes the Torah and says that Hashem took us out of Egypt with “a strong hand and an outstretched arm”. “Hand” in Hebrew is yad, spelled yud-dalet. In Hebrew numerics, yud=10 and dalet=4, together the sum of fourteen. The Dayenu sonnet is therefore a hint that the Almighty's mighty hidden hand not only took us out of Egypt, but personally massages our hearts and sustains us each moment of the day.

To be truly happy, we should all sit down and compose our own list of Dayenus – once we open our eyes to all our blessings and thank Hashem for them, life becomes a Heaven on earth. Blessings for the very best Passover you ever had!