When we smile and wish, “mazel tov,” and at the same time, our hearts are filled with envy, we feel awful. No one wants to be dishonest. There is a principle in Judaism that we all want to keep: “echad balev, echad bapeh,” which means being sincere – that the words we speak really match how we feel on the inside.
Comes the Torah ha-kedoshah and tells us what Hillel the Elder taught. He said that all the Torah can be summed up in one phrase: “Don’t do to your neighbor what you don’t want others to do to you.” A positive counterpart to this phrase would be – “and you will love thy neighbor as yourself.”
The question is – how can we reach that level?
We all want others to join in our happiness just as we want to join in the happiness of others. Now, let’s say, for example, that your daughter is going through the process of shidduchim, and she is having many setbacks and tests in that area. In fact, you feel everything is at a standstill. Then you hear that one of your best friend’s daughters, who is much younger than your daughter and who just started the shidduchim process, is getting engaged to an excellent match. He has a good family, excellent middos, etc.
In a nutshell, he is the young man of your dreams. Feeling true happiness for your friend, as if that happy event was happening to yourself, requires the hard work of avodat ha-middot – working on yourself in order to improve your character traits.
Now – from where do we get this greatness? Where do we get the spiritual strength to feel true happiness for other people? We are not wicked; we don’t want to hear about people having difficulties or, God forbid, misfortune. The holy neshamah is tehorah, pristinely pure, and only wants to hear good tidings from everybody.
The Torah says about Aaron “v’samach b’liboh” – that he was happy in his heart when he learned that his younger brother, Moshe, and not himself, would be the leader of the Jewish people. How can we reach this same level?
In his magnum opus, Alei Shur (perek sheni, vaad of simcha), Rav Shlomo Wolbe says regarding the Gemara “ein malchut nogaat be-chavertah k-meló nimah. Lachen chayav adam lekabel et-atzmoh k’fi she-hu… u-lihiot merutzeh im kol ma-she iesh lo, hen b’ruchaniot hen b’gashmiut ve-zu omkoh be-simcha.” Nobody can touch a hair’s breadth of what is destined for his fellow. We each must accept ourselves as we are and be happy with our portion, both spiritually and materially.
That is the depth of the simcha, of the happiness: being content with what you have (sameach b’chelkoh) in order to genuinely enjoy what you have been assigned in this world. When we feel happy and content with whatever Hashem gives us in life, we have no spare time to compare ourselves and our situations with others.
A friend of mine told me that on her daughter’s wedding day, she held her hand in order to lead her to the chuppah. She was shocked when she realized she didn’t recognize her own daughter’s hand. “Twenty years,” she exclaimed, “I raised this child for twenty years and not even once did I stop and really gaze at her hands, at her nails!”
This woman was so busy with everyday life, she never once stopped to contemplate something so simple, and at the same time so precious and significant, as her daughter’s hands.
Maybe this story is not so “transcendental,” but it makes me think about the concept of “sameach b’chelkoh”, because this child, this daughter, is your chelek. Know her, love her and appreciate to the fullest that which Hashem gives you and lavishes on you.
We must make sure that every day, at every given moment, we are so full with whatever we have – so contented- that our hearts have no room for jealousy, no time to ponder and compare what others have and what we don’t have.
In that manner we will be able to truly “lefargen” (Yiddish term meaning being truly happy with other people’s success) the good news we hear from our friends because, ultimately, their good news is ours too, just as we daven for all Jews in our daily prayers.
One day I was chatting with a ‘peanit’ (wig maker). She told me, among other things, that she was very excited about her job. She said: “You know, I love my job, I really do. I am so happy about it. I love caring for all these women, improving their looks, making them look beautiful. It gives me such a joy!”
Because she is so happy and content with her own life, she will feel only happiness when she learns that her neighbor graduated as a lawyer or a medical doctor. When we love what we do, and do the things we love, we feel free to enjoy other people’s happiness.
I remember the day after my wedding. It was a Friday morning, and I had gone shopping. I wanted to buy something for my new home (how joyous I felt buying little things for my own home!). Walking along the streets of Jerusalem, wearing my brand new kisui rosh, head covering, I suddenly felt an exaggerated happiness. I felt like shouting so everyone could hear, “I am a married woman! I am a married woman!”
Today, 30 years later, I am still a married woman. Do I feel that same irresistible urge to proclaim my civil status? Probably not. But I do know that I should feel a great joy at being a member of the “married women” category not only because not every woman gets married, but also for the mere fact of being married and having children.
Being filled with Hashem’s blessings is the best recipe for being happy for others. The more we are content with our chelek (portion), the more receptive we will be to other people’s joys. Every little thing Hashem brings to our lives is good because all that comes from Him is good.
In fact, we lack absolutely nothing. Being aware of this fact frees us and gives us the opportunity of enjoying together those who surround us. Instead of looking with jealousy at the wonderful diamond ring of my coworker, I can choose to enjoy my own humble ring which was presented to me by my daughter…
Our life is full of brachot – blessings. We have exactly what we need in order to fulfill our tafkid (goal) in this world. Nobody can even touch that which was assigned to us. Once we are free, we can dance and really feel the joy for every simcha of Am Yisrael – The Jewish People.