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The secret to happiness

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

A profound educational principle is concealed in this week's Torah portion. Until now, we were always on the receiving end of God's benevolence. We saw the miracles and wonders of the ten plagues, we experienced the Exodus, crossed on dry land when the Red Sea split, and stood at the foot of Mount Sinai when we received the Ten Commandments. God had continually showered us with abundance. In response, we were not always satisfied, we complained, and even sinned.
But now the rules have changed. In parashat Terumah we are given numerous detailed commandments, a multitude of instructions for building the mishkan (portable sanctuary) that would accompany us on our desert journey. For the first time we are not on the receiving end, but are asked to give -- to initiate, build, act on our own. We are no longer passive spectators, but active participants. And so we discover the secret that God's greatest gift to us is not a gift in the literal sense, but rather a demand to take responsibility, to replace a sense of entitlement with one of obligation.
The results of this new way of thinking are astonishing. Our complaints disappear in favor of an outburst of positive action. Because when we give, we become more committed, connected, and happy. This is true in our relationship with God and with other people as well.
I shared this idea this week in the "Nifgashot" workshop for girls and asked for examples from their lives. One participant mentioned that when she puts her room in order by herself, she feels better and more responsible for it than when someone else does it for her. Another girl said when she prepares dessert for Shabbat, she feels more attached to the entire meal, and waits expectantly to serve her part of it. Another girl related that when she learns the meaning of the words in a prayer, she prays with greater seriousness, intention, and focus. And someone else said that when she makes notes in a notebook and reviews them assiduously prior to an exam, she absorbs the material better since she feels that it belongs to her. I encourage all of you to find such examples from your own lives.


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