Vayigash: “Being Right/Being Happy”

A couple of weeks ago, Ron and I were pondering a challenging situation, and he said something that I can’t stop thinking about.  His comment was-  “I don’t need to be right, I just want to be happy.”  Personally,  I so resist this wise perspective.  I DO need to be right- I want to stomp my feet and pound my fist and argue fiercely until you are CONVINCED that I am right, until you scream it from the rooftops.

         Okay, it’s hard for me to let things go.  And yet, I have to admit that, ironically, Ron IS right- in many cases, maybe even in most cases, the better part of valor is to just let it go.  When I counsel couples, I often advise them as follows:  When you have a disagreement, ask yourself, “How much does this matter to me?  How much does it matter to my partner?”  If your level of caring is a 3 and theirs is an 8, let it go.  Save your energy for engagement for those moments where you both care about something passionately, and even then, consider the question, “How much will this matter in 5 years?”  Perhaps you can, after all, let it go.

         I think about the story Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi used to tell about the poor peasant schlepping along the road with his heavy pack.  Along comes a nobleman who invites the peasant to ride in his carriage.  The poor man gratefully steps into the carriage, still holding his heavy bag on his shoulder. He can’t, or won’t, let it go. The nobleman suggests, “You’re riding in the carriage anyway, why don’t you put down your pack?”  “It’s enough,” the peasant replies, “that you’re carrying me.  Why should you carry my pack as well?”  The tale is a metaphor for our relationship with God.  If we’re already in the carriage, that is, the world, why do we carry our burdens with us?  Why not put them down and let God give us a ride? 

         It’s hard to let go.  It’s hard to let go of all of the cares and troubles and concerns and rationalizations that we carry with us.  Somehow we think that we are so important, that our cares and our perspectives are so vital, that we can’t possibly put them down.  As we enter a new year, it occurs to me that this is a good time to reflect on what we are carrying into the year ahead, and what, perhaps, we might be able to let go?  The year 2020 invites us to think about putting everything that we are carrying into sharper focus.  What is our vision for the year ahead and how can we lighten our load with an eye towards greater happiness?

         In this week’s parshah, Vayigash, Joseph is, finally, reunited with the brothers who wanted to kill him and who sold him into slavery.  Joseph, clearly, had a lot of anger he might have carried.  He easily could have stomped his feet and banged his fist and hit them over the head with his own righteousness and their grievous error.  Joseph does none of that.  Instead, as he reveals his true identity, he cries with relief and with joy, “I am Joseph; does my father yet live?”  (Genesis 45:2)  Joseph doesn’t need to be right, he just wants to be happy.  He puts down the heavy burden of his anger and resentment and righteous indignation  and embraces his brothers. 

         As we enter the year 2020, can we all shift our perspective on what is truly important and reflect deeply on what we actually need to carry with us and what we might be able to let go?  Do we need to be right in every instance?  Perhaps we just be happy?

3 comments

    • marilyn koss on January 6, 2020 at 11:05 PM
    • Reply

    Happiness is much more important than being right. Without happiness life has less meaning. To me happiness and good health is everything.

    • Rabbi Bonnie Koppell on January 7, 2020 at 1:06 AM
    • Reply

    Thanks, Marilyn. Appreciate your thoughtful reflection!

    • Dorie sanders on January 7, 2020 at 3:21 PM
    • Reply

    Sometimes “being right” reflects your values and in an age where many feel that their values are being trampled, it can a relief to be genuine. Guess we have to pick and choose.

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