Friday, March 13, 2009

The Happy Astronaut by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Take this simple quiz:

Does (a) or (b) more accurately describe your emotional state most of the time.

(a) I am happy.
(b) I would be happy if ______(fill in whatever applies for you)

Our first president’s wife, Martha Washington, also took this quiz. Here is how she answered.

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.

Amazingly, in Deuteronomy chapter 16, God instructs us, “….and you should be only happy.” Unlike some of God’s directives, whose benefits we don’t immediately see, this one seems easy to understand.

For starters, being a happy person means you’re practicing spiritual hygiene and refraining from polluting the environment. That makes people enjoy being around you since most folks loathe being around the unpleasant aura of self-indulgent misery. And certainly the general air of well being and bonhomie that emanates from your happy soul impacts your body, making for lower stress and better health. You also remain young looking for longer.

But God does not merely direct us to be happy. Presenting an agonizing list of hideously horrid consequences, in Deuteronomy chapter 28, He informs us why He brings these curses. The first reason is because “You didn’t listen to the voice of the Lord, your God and keep His commandments.

The second is the one that concerns us now: “Because you didn’t serve the Lord, your God with happiness and with a glad heart on account of all the abundance.”

So, listening to the word of God is a good start but we also had better learn to do so joyously. It is hard to think of any way you could more easily and more immediately impact every area of your life for good than by choosing to be happy—even if at first it takes great effort and even perhaps a little faking. You will see your social life (not to mention your marital life) improve, see your health improve, and improve your relationship with God.

Paradoxically, when happiness is your natural state, you are more acutely tuned in to appropriate sadness.

Yesterday morning, Dr. David Medved, father of my dear friends, Michael, Jon, and Harry Medved, passed away in Jerusalem. But he was much more to me than the father of my friends. He was a dear friend who throughout his life validated every detail of what I am telling you in this Thought Tool.

I met David Medved when he joined the fledgling synagogue that his son Michael and I established near the beach in west Los Angeles. As the most senior member of a synagogue of mostly young Jews rediscovering their heritage, he was often my main resource for wisdom along with fierce and independent leadership. With his courage and intuitive sense of right, more than once he saved my rabbinic skin. But our relationship was also deeply personal.

My wife, Susan, and I asked him to drive us to our wedding reception for no other reason than his warm ebullience was exactly what we wanted to bask in during our marriage celebrations. From then onwards, he was a frequent and, on account of how happy he made all in his company feel, a very welcome guest at our Shabbat table until he moved to Jerusalem.

One summer I fulfilled my dream of sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. I invited five friends from my synagogue to help me crew my small sailboat up the California coast from its home port in Marina del Rey to the San Francisco Bay. Though almost double the age of the other fellows, Dr. Medved was the toughest, most reliable, and most fun-loving man on that rough, coastal jaunt. Over the ensuing years, his rollicking recounting of that boisterous trip, including his unplanned leap overboard, brought joy to every audience.

Fueled by his happiness, to his final days he was an indefatigable hiker. With his youthful good looks and physical vitality, he was a perfect match for the ancient Judean Hills around his Jerusalem home.

David Medved was a brilliant physicist who had been part of an early NASA astronaut training program. After joining our young synagogue he quickly became a committed Jew and a serious Bible scholar. Only a few years ago he authored a remarkable book on science and the Bible. He was a business professional, an engineer, an accomplished public speaker, and a Jewish leader of renown.

He was a devoted father to his four remarkable sons, a loving father-in-law and grandfather. But above all, he radiated a constant love of life, and his ever-present thousand kilowatt smile brought happiness to all who knew him.

In the words of the traditional condolence formula used for millennia, may the All Present One comfort you, Michael, Jon, Ben, and Harry, among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.