December 2017/January 2018

Of the Book

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By Rabbi Daniel Bortz
A Rabbi once asked our class, “What’s the most important part of the body?” Some answered the heart; others the eyes. “It’s the brain”, he said. The state of our mind is paramount. How can we optimize our mindset to its most healthy and happy state?

Joseph of the Torah didn’t have it easy. As a teenager, his mother Rachel dies. His jealous brothers throw him inro a pit of snakes and scorpions, then sell him into slavery. Soon he’s framed and imprisoned indefinitely in a dungeon. Joseph has nothing and is truly alone in a foreign place. Everything around him is awful, but inside Joseph’s mind and soul is a peace – a bright light of hope and trust. He knows there’s a purpose to his life, no matter how low he is.

One day, Joseph sees two dejected prisoners and asks them: “Why are your faces sad today?” They describe the nightmares they had. He interprets them and when word reaches Pharaoh of this young dream interpreter, Joseph is raised from the dungeon and becomes second in command of all of Egypt. All of this came about because Joseph didn’t let his circumstances define him. His positive perspective was impenetrable.

After the Holocaust, Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s Search For Meaning, describing his theory that the longevity of life for a concentration camp prisoner depended on his perspective. “I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones … Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms  —  to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Life is a struggle, but tough times are truly painful when we don’t see meaning or purpose behind them. Athletes in pain are happy with the knowledge that they’re building something great. The more their muscles burn, the more they know they’re growing. Every test and descent in your life is for the sake of a greater ascent through it.

With 7 billion people and an endless universe, what difference can you make? The Talmud in Sanhedrin teaches that each of us must say: “The world was created for my sake.” Every single musician in a massive orchestra is crucial to its success. No person is expendable in the grand scheme of humanity. One Joseph changed saved his entire world.

Maimondes taught: “One should look at the world as an evenly balanced scale: One good action can tip the scales and bring salvation to the world.” Who’s to say which actions are more precious to G-d and mankind? Every moment and deed is infinitely precious, like a baby’s first words to her parent’s ears.

No matter how dark it ever gets, let’s remember that this darkness is temporary, that our lives have incredible meaning beyond this moment and a brighter future awaits. Often we’re only having a bad day (or week or month) but not a bad life. Let’s also focus on what we have – not only on what we lack. There’s a Divine plan to all of our downs, and we have the ability to completely flip our mindsets from a negative defensive state to an optimistic offense. It’s amazing how things start to change when your mind and soul move into a directed, positive, trusting state. As the Hanukah miracle of light over darkness fills our lives and 2017 comes to a close, let’s start channeling our inner Joseph mindset for a bright new year.

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