If you were asked “What entity in the world brings the most joy” – how would you respond? If we were to take a poll of the answers, there might be as many different responses as there are participants. I can imagine someone answering that his pet pooch “Bowser” brings the most happiness. One clever rabbi once lectured on this topic and gave a very direct reply he said, “Children, by far, bring the most happiness.” Then he did a 180 and in the same breath proclaimed, “and they cause the most pain!”
Provocative? Do you agree? How can something like children afford comfort and pain at the same time?
The Talmud posed a similar challenge. One sage asked his assistant to go out into the market- place and bring him something tasty. The dutiful servant returned shortly with roasted tongue and mustard. Then the rabbi asked him to return and find the most repugnant and detestable item in the marketplace. The assistant went out and returned to the master with roasted tongue and mustard. Whereupon the intrigued rabbi asked “Why did you fetch the same item to my opposite requests?” Without missing a beat the wise servant retorted, “When one prepares tongue correctly delicacy can compare to its delectable taste. But when it is cooked improperly it is absolutely the worst tasting thing in the world.” The Talmud uses this anecdote to punctuate the power of the spoken word – it can bring either the greatest pleasure or the most pain.
God, in his infinite wisdom, created a system of perfection for the world. All physical entities were pure pleasure and unblemished. Food and sexuality had no flaws. It was called Gan Eden, the proverbial Garden of Eden. Once man sinned, however, and imbibed from the Tree of Knowledge, he caused a new reality. All material phenomena would contain an admixture of good and evil, pain and pleasure, and all other “opposites.” The quest of mankind is to extract the spark of good and beneficial in these entities while discarding the dark and pernicious. Not an easy task at all.
The Ramchal (Rabbi moshe chaim Luzzatto – 18th century Italian scholar and philospher), assert that the ultimate good is to bask in the light of God’s holiness. When one lives an existence in harmony with a Higher Source and purpose, all actions can be consecrated for the sake of Heaven and enhance one’s life. His definition of happiness is simply to make a connection with you Creator and seek ways to emulate His ways.
That brings us back to children. There is perhaps no way in which we demonstrate our imitatio dei (Emulation of God) more, than by having children and bestowing them with love and care to raise them as worthy members of planet earth. When they, and we, are “hitting on all cylinders” promoting God’s Will in the world, children can be the more delightful than the most pleasurable French wine and cuisine. When there are flaws in the transmission of values and character traits, or even abuse in the relationship, children can behave in ways that make Dante’s Inferno a desired retreat! The adage of “whatever you sow, so shall you reap” is so apparent in this regard that it need not be mentioned.
So you want to find happiness and pleasure in this world?
Have children. Too late? Well, time to visit the local school, community center, orphanage, Big Brother organization, park and recreation office and find a way to connect with the younger generation. If that doesn’t work, relive the child in yourself, your spouse or your friend. Psychologists are discovering that longevity is partially a function of maintaining a youthful outlook and child-like awe and excitement in one’s life. When life becomes monotonous, or we fail to perceive the wonderful diversity in nature and the world around us, we are short-changing ourselves and missing the boat.
If you are already blessed with children or grandchild, take time out to connect with them. No one occupying this planet is too busy to spend time with our charges, or grand-charges. I have yet to hear of an elderly person who requested that on his tombstone epithet should be written “I should have spent more time earning a living.” What we have found in our counseling and reading is myriads of people lamenting that they spent too little time nurturing those sensitive little clones of themselves – and now it is too late! Let’s focus and apply renewed effort to avoid that mistake.
Catch, then, O catch the transient hour; Improve each moment as it flies; Life’s a short summer, man a flower; He dies,- alas! How soon he dies! Samuel Johnson, Winter