Shabbat Inspirations – October 1

Shabbat

By Jeanie Gruber

I never dreamed it would be my Judaism that contributed to my resolving an ongoing internal negotiation – a chronic soul searching. To save my soul, I could not figure out what was a healthy amount of “self-love”, “selfishness”, “wanting”, “needing”, “giving”, ‘taking’, “buying”, “greed”. How to obtain happiness, contentment, satisfaction?!!  No doubt you too may be familiar with this topic.
 
And then…. on top of this, we were in this past decade bombarded with the encouragement and unintended guilt engendering to be grateful for what we have and who we are and to practice daily gratitude. Where in the world was I to set my internal “give and take” dial to develop a steady practice of satisfaction leading to the sense of gratitude? Additional stress!
 
As a therapist in my first career, I would spend endless hours hoping to help individuals and couples attempt to strike a satisfying balance between their own needs and the needs of others. The same was true in my career as a caterer – do you offer what you would like to eat at a party or what others enjoy? In my own therapy, my long term marriage and with my children, with friends and in impromptu meetings with strangers I often wonder: Do I take care of them or myself? How much? How little?
 
So where is the sweet spot of taking care of ourselves and others- What will make us content, satisfied, happy? What will help us experience that we are enough, have enough? When Is my tank full? At what point will it overflow?

On Rosh Hashanah, the Rabbi introduced the term “Enoughness”. I was taken aback and delighted to learn there was even a spiritual concept that captured my journey. She first defined it as the quality of having “enough”. Having any more is abundance. I realized immediately she was referring to that “sweet spot” I had been aiming for. She went on to say that “enoughness” is a sense of fulfillment that comes from within and through our natural environment. It is a sense of contentment that emanates from connectedness to our friends, families, communities and cultures. The Rabbi empathized with her congregants for the complexity of achieving this balance- an equilibrium that is continuously being dismantled by the cultural pressures we experience – to acquire, to compete, to beat out others, to be the greatest, to be the founder of a fortune 500 company or to create a new social media idea.  Where have we failed if we do not have a second home on a lake or if our names are not glittered front and center on our screens?  Where have we failed that we do not feel we are enough; or that we have not acquired enough?
 

As the Rabbi spoke, I began to recall a refrain that I must have imbibed in Sunday School or Friday night services growing up in Baton Rouge.  You will probably be familiar with it.  “AND IT WAS GOOD”. Yes! Straight from the Creation story.


After each of the first five days of creating light, air, water, earth, plants, animals, it is said and “G-d saw that it was good”. Notice G-d didn’t proclaim their creation was “great” or “extraordinary”. Nor did they say it was just “ok”. On the 6th day, G-d is portrayed as experiencing quiet delight in the way the individual parts of Creation had interacted seamlessly with each other. G-d exclaimed with additional satisfaction and “it was very good”. I see this as modeling for me what it feels like to have been engaged in a process, resting, taking it in and feeling contentment. We appear to be instructed to stay alert, to see if there is more need for creating and doing. In fact, we are told that G-d then noticed that they had created man alone –so they set about problem solving- creating that which they felt needed to be created to keep all the parts of the world vibrating at their fullest in sacred interactions.
 
I realized that on numerous occasions as an adult I have found a little voice in myself harmoniously reciting this verse, “And it was good”. It has happened after leaving a flowing, rich conversation over coffee with a friend or leaving a catering job where all the pieces seemed to come together in a magical way or from a quick brief interaction with a stranger where we connected over an unexpected topic. I have noticed this phrase when I’ve finishing weeding a long row on a farm or observing a sweet consciousness developing in our children. Apparently the satisfying experience these interactions afford me will calm me, my heart surges, I pause briefly, and then experience a desire to move forward – to use the energy created to fuel forward into the day. This is good. I’d proclaim it in fact “Very good”.
 
My older son provided me additional insight into my search for balance by introducing me to a book named “The Happiness of Pursuit”. (No, not The Pursuit of Happiness – I had been stuck on the latter, and it wasn’t working.) The concept is that it is the process that is enough, not the end goal. I find this helpful as I become agitated over whether I am rapidly achieving my goal, will I be successful, will it be a “wow”. I remind myself to slow down; remember it is the enjoyment of the challenges of learning and experimentation in the process… not just the end result.
 
And you’ve heard it said to you or someone else either with disdain or encouragement “take what you need and leave the rest”.  


G-d is challenging us to figure out when we were “full” – where this fine line overflows into abundance. This is the fine line of healthy self reward vs. selfishness entitlement. Only each one of can determine this line. It is nuanced for each of us based on our histories, personalities, life stories and experiences. G-d is directing us that there is a “sweet spot” to be consciously determined by each one of us.
 
No, unfortunately I have not figured out an algorithm for a how to find ones own sweet spot of having and giving –  of finding the delicate line of “enoughness”. With the wisdom and directives of G-d’s commentary, I am left with an optimism that this is obtainable.

ט׳ במרחשון ה׳תשפ״ב (October 15, 2021)