The Ten Happiness Principles: #1

Finding Happiness and Finding God: 

One of the greatest minds of this era, and one of the greatest thinkers in Judaism is, in my opinion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the very recently retired, Chief Rabbi of London). He gives what he believes are the top ten most important things we can do to find happiness. I wish to give his top ten and expand a little on each one through the next 10 short blog posts.

Some research studies have shown the Westerners, despite years of improving economic conditions, are generally no more happy than they were, and continue to seek the answers to their lack of happiness, through the masses of pop psychology offerings.

Research does appear to suggest that the wealthier people are, the happier they are (to some degree at least) and yet, research also seems to suggest that when adults have children they end up being less happy!!?

Given all the significant challenges of trying to quantify such as elusive emotion, or state of being, as happiness, perhaps we shouldn’t rely to heavily on such research!

At the same time, we all can reflect on our own personal experiences and on anecdotal evidence from the life experiences of our closest family members and friends, and how their happiness has changed through various significant life events.

For example, I saw first-hand how someone, very close to me, overcame a life-time of severe depression by taking on a job which involved taking significant responsibility for the welfare of vulnerable members of society.

I believe that these 10 Happiness Principles are 10 action steps which are foundational to a good and happy life. elizah1

Happiness Principle #1:  Give thanks:

Being appreciate for what we have is always a good approach that demonstrates a good attitude. There seems no question that those who are appreciative for whatever good, no matter how small or great, that comes their way, are generally much more content with their lives, and hence less jealous of others and consequently happier.

Part of this appreciation is the recognition that we normally have no control over the circumstances, or country, or economic state we are born and grow up in, but as adults, we do have control over how we respond to our personal circumstances.

As Rabbi Sacks states it: “For it is not what happens to us on which our happiness depends.  It depends on how we respond to what happens to us.” 

Of-course, that’s easy for him to say!  In reality, the practice of a good attitude is never easy!

To awake and start the day by being thankful that you have the day, that you are alive is a great start. Even being thankful that your normal bodily functions are working helps to engender a sense of calm and serenity.

The first waking prayer of Judaism fits this mold. It states: “I thank You, living and eternal King, who has restored my soul in mercy. Thank You, God, for giving me back my life.”

Giving thanks to the Almighty is a very common refrain in the Psalms. Just a few examples are Ps 7:17. 9:1.18:49, 30:4, 33:2, 35:18. 44:8, 45:17, 53:9, 54:6. 57:9. 75:1, 79:13 and so on.

The wording of Psalm 107:1 is often repeated: Give thanks to YHVH, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever.”

This attitude or thankfulness is also quite common in the Apostle Paul’s writings. For example see 1 Thessalonians 5: 14-18

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you.

If  you take the time to read through just some of the many Psalms that speak of giving thanks you will also see what Happiness Principle #2 is.

Next: Happiness Principle #2

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Distressed by the Tragedy of Loss of Life

This weeks Torah Portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) contains the story of the reunion of Jacob and Esau. In Genesis 32:8 we read: Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.”

Many Rabbi’s have asked why the Tanakh repeats the verb here. Many of them go on to argue that Jacob’s being afraid, was because of his fear of the consequences of Esau and his men coming and attacking him. They then suggest that Jacob’s distress was over the moral issue that if he killed Esau or one of his men in self-defense, he would still be greatly distressed at the death of a man created in the image of God.

This brought to mind the tragic life of my PNG brother, Gus.

Gus was living in a secure complex in Port Moresby some years ago and had got up early around dawn, one morning to take his wife and children to the airport. He had some security downstairs, but he heard two of the ‘rascals’ climbing over the balcony to enter upstairs where he and his family were. They would most likely have killed them in the process of stealing their possessions.

Gus a giant of a man both physically and spiritually, went out on to the balcony and fought with them. In the process he ended up knocking one of the men over the balcony and the man died.

When I next met up with Gus after this tragic event and some time had passed, Gus was still struggling with the reality that he had killed another human being. Even though he had, in all likelihood saved his wife and beautiful young children, he still found it difficult to live with. He may have been ‘morally right’ but that did not make his involvement in the tragic loss of a man’s life easy to bear.

Gus went on to do an incredible job of raising his daughter and three sons and then before he had reached the age of 40, with his eldest girl, Yuana still only around 16, Gus had a heart-attack at work and died.

Receiving the news of his untimely passing was one of the most upsetting days of my life. The sun shines less brightly without the great impact of this man of God who was cherished by so many.

Rabbi Sacks writes a great article on this Torah Portion and this moral issue. In it he relates the mixed feelings that the Israeli soldiers had after the great victory of 1967 and quotes Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of Staff during the war.

“We find more and more a strange phenomenon among our fighters. Their joy is incomplete, and more than a small portion of sorrow and shock prevails in their festivities, and there are those who abstain from celebration. The warriors in the front lines saw with their own eyes not only the glory of victory but the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them bleeding, and I know that even the terrible price which our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men. It may be that the Jewish people has never learned or accustomed itself to feel the triumph of conquest and victory, and therefore we receive it with mixed feelings.”

 Sacks goes on to state: “A people capable of feeling distress, even in victory, is one that knows the tragic complexity of the moral life. Sometimes it is not enough to make the right choice. One must also fight to create a world in which such choices do not arise because we have sought and found non-violent ways of resolving conflict.”

What very wise words, but what a huge challenge, that today, after the UN vote to recognize the ‘State of Palestine’, seems even more challenging and further from resolution.

I recommend reading the whole of Rabbi Sack’s article on Aish –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/180748221.html

For some insightful commentary on the UN vote I recommend these articles:

‘Into the Fray: Israel’s infuriating impotence’ By Martin Sherman

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=294033

‘Accomplices in a campaign to annihilate a UN member’ By Shlomo Slonim

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=293826

and ‘I Stand Ashamed that My Country Voted for the New Nazis’ by Giulio Meotti

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12511#.ULimw46ZQsk

Isaac and Rebekah: A Failure to Communicate?

At the heart of the world is the family. At the heart of the family is the relationship between a husband and wife.

This relationship is the foundation upon which a family is built, children are raised and they in turn become contributing adults and normally marry and become parents and begin the whole cycle over again.

For a marital relationship  to work well, good communication is vital and yet, there are few courses that offer the in-depth and strenuous training needed for couples to enter into a relationship with the communication skills needed to cope with the inevitable tensions and relationship break-downs that occur.

No marriage is immune (or at least I am not aware of any). Few, if any couples, begin a marriage with perfect skills in communication. Effective, supportive and helpful communication is easy when times are good; when the full bloom of the relationship is in its ascendancy. When the inevitable disagreements arrive and the tension and separation occurs, good communication is difficult. If the tension escalates; normally the emotional separation grows and the barrier to effective resolution rises and begins to seem insurmountable.

A wall is built up, a dividing wall of pain and misunderstanding, of hurt and frustration and fear. How is this dividing wall to be torn down, but even more importantly, how can the communication skills be improved so that it rarely begins to build in the first place?

Well-developed communication skills are needed in great measure. It is at this point that we all need guidance. This guidance surely includes an appreciation of how serious the consequences can be to relationship breakdown and poor communication, even while the marriage remains intact.

This brings me to this weeks Torah Portion, Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9). In this parshah, we read about the deception of Rebekah.

While some may search hard to excuse Rebekah’s apparently immoral and unethical behaviour, on reading and reflecting on the narrative here, most would feel that Rebekah acted in a deceptive manner. Rather than try to find excuses for her behaviour, let us instead accept it at face value and ask the question, what can we learn from this mistake of Rebekah’s? What lead to this inappropriate behaviour and what life lessons should it teach us.

There is a link below to a brilliant article from Chief Rabbi Sacks of London about this very situation. He argues that there was most likely a power/position imbalance in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah that made it difficult for Rebekah to be as direct and up-front with Isaac as she should have been. This meant she kept things to herself and when suddenly faced with a potential calamity in her eyes, her reaction was underhanded instead of open and trusting.

Isaac was much older than Rebekah when they met and married. It was also some 20 years before Rebekah fell pregnant with her first babies, the twins Esau and Jacob. And yet, Isaac knew the promises that the Almighty had made to his father Abraham, that through him (Isaac) would come a great nation. The tension of these barren 20 years would have had some impact and perhaps negatively affected their communication and harmony.

Add to this the great, yet troubling message that Rebekah received while pregnant: “And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” – Gen 25:23.

It appears she never shared this prophecy with Isaac. So when the time of the blessings arrives, it is quite possible that there was a significant communication barrier, a dividing wall, between Rebekah and Isaac, and therefore she looked for an ‘easy way out’.

I would suggest that there are at least two central lessons we can take away from this:

1)   Honesty and good communication are central to all relationships and in particular to the relationship at the centre of this world, the marriage;

2)   We can often learn more from the imperfect lives of the great characters of the Bible, than from the explicit teachings contained therein. Often, it is the mistakes that the Biblical heroes make that help us to better see ourselves reflected in their human frailty, and in turn, this enables us to reject their mistakes and instead turn from error to truth, from distance to close communication, and heal our relationships. I believe an appreciation of the conflict of the ‘good’ and ‘evil inclinations’ also helps with this – see the 2 part series of podcasts on the Hebraic Mindset for some more details on this – at http://aubreyandpaul.podomatic.com/

The great Chief Rabbi of London, Lord Sacks explains this all brilliantly in his blog post ‘The Tragedy of Good Intentions’, which I strongly recommend – at Aish.com –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/134230588.html

Update: 2nd December 2016

Since writing this short reflection over 4 years ago, I have revisited this Torah Portion and few times and read a number of books that discuss these events surrounding Rebekah (including Gary Rendsburg’s brilliant ‘The Redaction of Genesis’ and Rabbi Sacks great ‘Not in God’s Name’.

I wrote a couple of articles related to insights gained from Gary’s book – see Feeling for Rebekah – http://circumcisedheart.info/Feeling for Rebekah.pdf

I have also read a number of books on marriage, and now would argue that the best book on marital relationships that I have ever read (of 10’s of books on Marriage and Divorce), is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s ‘Kosher Lust: Love is Not The Answer’.

I strongly recommend all three books!

Hopes and Fears

This weeks Torah portion ‘Chayei Sarah’ describes two events in the life of Abraham, which may not appear that significant, but which actually carry an incredible depth of meaning and insight.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks writes a great article on this Parshah which brings out the amazing lesson and conclusion, that God’s great promises to Abraham do not mean that Abraham can sit back and have it all come to him without his total involvement. As Sacks’ states: “Faith does not mean passivity.”

The Hebrew language and the Hebrew mindset is all about action; about movement, energy, courage, passion, will, drive, and of course, trust (faithfulness).

Trust that God is involved; that He will support our righteous actions and even guide them through his teaching (His Torah) and His covenants, but that ultimately, we must act, we must step out with faith and courage and create the future that God has promised us. The Almighty wants to work with us, to work alongside us, to build our future together, to repair the world together (Tikkun HaOlam), and ultimately reward us with Eternity!

This was true in Abraham’s day and it is true today. It was true for the first Hebrew, the first man who ‘crossed over’, Abraham, the father of Israel and it is true for all Israel today, but it is also true for all the peoples of the many nations who call Abraham their father and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob their One True God and Saviour.

I strongly recommend reading Rabbi Sacks short article on the Aish.com site – see ‘Hopes and Fears’ at http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/177159951.html

Hebraic Mindset Part 2: From Actualizers to Hyperbole

This is Part 2 of our series on the Hebraic Mindset.

In this Podcast we discuss some of the principles that help to empower the Jewish people as well as further explaining how an appreciation of some Hebraisms help with Biblical interpretation and understanding.

Links: http://www.israelinsidethemovie.com/

Pastor Aubrey’s podcasts on the Covenants are at pfherring.podomatic.com

The article ‘Righteousness Before Messiah’ is at the website: www.circumcisedheart.info

Listen to the Podcast here

The Hebraic Mindset: Part 1

In our latest Podcast, we look at a few of the more significant issues related to reading the Bible through Hebraic eyes.

The Hebraic perspective is all about doing; the Greek or Hellenistic perspective is all about knowing.

In this podcast we address such questions as:

“What does this mean?

What is the significance of this difference, especially with respect to how we approach the Scriptures?”

 “The aim of Hebrew religion is the Knowledge of God); the aim of Greek thought is Know thyself.  
Between these two there is a great gulf fixed.  We do not see that either admits of any compromise.  They are fundamentally different in a priori assumption, in method of approach, and in final conclusion…
The Hebrew system starts with God.  The only true wisdom is Knowledge of God.  ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.’  The corollary is that man can never know himself, what he is and what is his relation the world, unless first he learn of God and be submissive to God’s sovereign will. 


The Greek system, on the contrary, starts from the knowledge of man, and seeks to rise to an understanding of the ways and Nature of God through the knowledge of what is called ‘man’s higher nature’.  According to the Bible, man had no higher nature except he be born of the Spirit.
We find this approach of the Greeks no where in the Bible. The whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach… “  Prof. Norman H. Snaith  “Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament”

Listen to Part 1 here – http://aubreyandpaul.podomatic.com/player/web/2012-10-21T14_30_55-07_00

Here is a link to a Powerpoint from a Sukkot Presentation on this topic as well: Hebraic Mindset

Noah and Violence

This weeks Torah Portion contains the following verses on the Days of Noah:

“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God. And Noah begot three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God  saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah: ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” Gen 6:9-13 (Tanakh JPS)

The world is evil; the world is ‘as in the days of Noah’ – a time of great violence (some versions translate the Hebrew as ‘robbery’ rather than violence).

What is the greatest violence than man can perpetrate?

Surely, it is the violence against his fellow man, and here the greatest violence is surely that against the most innocent and most vulnerable of human beings! Who are they? The unborn!

What is the great robbery or theft that man can commit?

Surely, to steal from God; to rob from God’s design; His plan and the gift of each life that He gives to the world to enjoy and embrace.

There is a great Jewish saying (that is derived from the fact that the word for ‘blood’ in the story of Cain and Abel is plural): “Save a man, save a world; kill a man kill a world”.

When an innocent unborn baby is murdered, the life taken could have been the father or mother of a whole ‘world’ of people.

There is a great poem that starts: ‘The greatest gift of God, it would seem, it the gift of life. The greatest sin of mankind, it would seem, it to return that gift, ungrateful and unopened’.

As we read of the great flood of Noah in this week’s Torah Portion, may we reflect on this massive holocaust that silently confronts us today. Each year some 50-60 MILLION unborn human beings are murdered through forced abortion.

These numbers beggar belief; this is around 190,000 per day and 8,000 per hour! Some 40 per day here in Queensland, Australia alone.

There are now a great many studies that show that these abortions, while doing the greatest harm to the unborn child who is murdered, also do great harm to the mothers who turn their wombs into graveyards; and even to the husbands and boyfriends and families. We are all affected by this much more than we probably realize. The damage can last a life time.

“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
 and will he not repay man according to his work?
Proverbs 24:11-12

Follow-up reading:Where is the outcry – why is the church silent’http://circumcisedheart.info/Christian site/Where is the outcry – CETF Version Apr 07.pdf