Rabbi Boruch Leff
‘Have a good day’, the Walmart check out clerk said cheerfully. I was in a contemplative mood. What exactly did he mean by that? What does it mean to have a good day? I decided to do some research.
We actually pray daily that G-d provide us with a good day:
“Grant us today and every day grace, benevolence, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us and give us great kindness. . . May it be Your will, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, that You rescue me today from brazen people, immoral people, bad friends, bad neighbors. . .” (Morning blessing prayers)
It appears that the definition of a good day is not only when something spectacular occurs. A good day is a day full of pleasant, if simple, experiences.
“Morrie Schwartz (an ALS terminally ill patient) was focused. . . He was having a good day. . . Morrie had always been taken with simple pleasures, singing, laughing, dancing. Now, more than ever, material things held little or no significance. When people die, you always hear the expression, ‘you can’t take it with you.’ Morrie seemed to know that a long time ago. . .
‘What if you had one day perfectly healthy?’ I asked. What would you do?
Let’s see. . .I’d get up in the morning, do my exercises, have a lovely breakfast of sweet rolls and tea, go for a swim, then have my friends come over for a nice lunch. I’d have them come one or two at a time so we could talk about their families, their issues, talk about how much we mean to each other. Then I’d like to go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature. . .In the evening, we’d all go to a restaurant. . . And then I’d go home and have a deep, wonderful sleep.” (Tuesdays with Morrie)
We all want to have good days. But too often we are our own worst enemy as we overlook so much good that we are already enjoying. True pleasures and good days lie in appreciating the simple things in life.
We are used to thinking that happiness must be triggered, that we cannot bring happiness to ourselves. If I have a child, I am happy. If I win the lottery, I am joyful. But the truth is quite the opposite. Joy is not based on what we are given in our lot in life. We can increase our own elation. Happiness is not a reaction to outside events but something we can bring to ourselves.
How do we bring joy into our lives?
We all know that everything depends on attitude. Take this example:
Two patients are in a nursing home. One says, "Thank God, my family cares so much about me. Not a week goes by without a visit and when they come they always bring something! It could be an apple or a candy."
The other patient says, "What a horrible family I have. Once a week is all the time they have for me, after all I have done for them as a mother? All I'm worth is a candy or an apple!"
They're describing the same thing, yet they're describing opposite experiences.
The essential ingredient of our joy is not what we have but what we are and how we think. We can strive to have more but we must also love what we have already. Even simple, commonplace pleasures must be highlighted.
There is a Yiddish story written solely about an orange. It is called The Morantz, "The Orange." The orange was received as a present on Purim in Russia. Oranges in that part of the world were rare in the 1800's. The first day people from all over town came to look at it. Wow! What an unbelievable sight!
The second day they came to smell it - an incredible aroma. The next day they peeled it, saving each piece of peel with care in order to make marmalade. Then they divided the sections of the orange and crushed it in their mouths, feeling the delicious juices. An incredible experience.
And then they had the marmalade that lasted for weeks. A memory for a lifetime - the Orange.
Most of the time, we hardly stop to even notice the blessing and the pleasurable taste of the food we are eating. Oftentimes, before we realize it, we are finished eating without having focused on an appreciation for the pleasure that God has given us. We must focus on the many pleasures we enjoy already in order to attain happiness.
This is what the Mishna states in Avot 4:1, "Who is rich? One who takes pleasure and joy in his lot." Bill Gates is not necessarily the richest man in the world. You can have a net worth of 50 billion dollars but if you don't enjoy and appreciate your wealth and are always looking for ways to get more, you will never be happy nor rich. A homeless man may only have $100 to his name but if he is satisfied with it and counts his blessings, he is richer than you.
True contentment is not based on having but on being and enjoying. We must teach ourselves to appreciate the very basics of life.
This is the definition of a good day.
Rabbi Boruch Leff is a vice principal in Torah Institute of Baltimore. His book, Forever His Students
(Targum/Feldheim) contains practical and powerful contemporary insights, inspired by the teachings of Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory. For info on the book, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org