When the Good Life Hasn’t Arrived Yet….

What do we need to live a good life? We all need food, water, and shelter. Beyond that, what is the Jewish recipe for personal fulfillment?

According to the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 6:4:

This is the way [to toil in] Torah: eat bread with salt and drink a small amount of water and sleep on the ground and live a life [whose conditions will cause you] pain and in Torah you toil; if you do so (Psalms 128: 2) “happy shall you be, and it shall be well with you” – happy shall you be in this world, and it shall be well with you in the world to come.

According to this teaching, to find happiness in this world and forever after, we must make the study of Torah our primary activity, eating and drinking and sleeping just enough to allow us to continue our learning.

The Torah repeats this idea many times – if we follow God’s commandments, God will fight our battles for us, give us food, rain, abundant produce, safety, and a life of meaning and connection in the land of Israel. If we don’t walk in God’s ways, our enemies will destroy us and we will be banished from the land entirely.

My own possibly heretical view is that studying Torah is not enough to achieve real satisfaction. My life has been enriched by many years of study, yet to achieve ongoing happiness and wellbeing, I’ve also needed to know about community, connection, recovery, and emotional wellbeing. As tempting as it is to say that studying Torah will give us all of these things as well as eliminating the pains of everyday life, I’m not sure that it can do that on its own (which of course doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t study Torah). I’ve spent years studying personal growth and development, and it has enriched my life immensely. I’ve had to overcome and work through the pain of trauma and addiction, and I don’t think Torah study alone is sufficient for anyone to work through the difficulties of their lives.

It’s an honor to begin to begin writing for the Rabbis Without Borders blog. I intend this monthly space to look into this question of how the Torah helps us work through our challenges so we can live a good life. What does Jewish tradition have to say about recovery from addiction? How do we even define addiction and what does the recovery from it look like? Where can Jews find help when they need it? How should we be thinking about addiction from a communal perspective? Where in Jewish tradition can we find hope for a better future, and strength to help us get there?

These are the questions I focus on. I believe that Judaism, like all religions, is inherently a conversation about how to live well and that when we do Jewish the right way, it can be one of the best healing tools this world has ever known. The world we live in today feels topsy-turvy and incredibly disorienting. The news is depressing, the pace of life is hard to keep up with, and the sheer volume of information we are bombarded with each day is too much to absorb.

How do we find peace for what ails us today?

How do we use Jewish wisdom to help us, and the whole planet, live well?

These are the questions with which I begin. I welcome your answers, and I look forward to the continuing conversation.

Many blessings,

Rabbi Ilan





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