All I Want is for You to be Happy!

Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Reb Mimi Feigelson

Reb Mimi Feigelson, is the Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. (WWW.ZIEGLERTORAH.ORG)
She is an Orthodox - Israeli Rabbi and an international Chassidut teacher and story teller. She was the Associate Director of Yakar, Jerusalem and Director of its Women's Beit Ha'midrash.
In 2010 Reb Mimi was recognized by The Forward as one of the fifty most influential female Rabbis in the USA, and in 2011 was accepted to the Board of Rabbi's of Southern California as an independent Orthodox rabbi. Currently Reb Mimi has embarked on pursuing a Doctorate at HUC-JIR, titled: "On the Cusp of Life: From Scared to Sacred". It is an exploration of redefining funerals and cemeteries.

posted on February 25, 2014
Torah Reading
Haftarah Reading
Maftir Reading

When was the last time you said this to someone you love? When was the last time someone you love said this to you? And what did you mean when you said it? And how did you feel when you heard it being said to you? Who are those people in your life that this sentence could even be a viable exchange between you?

The Ropshitzer Rebbe (Naftali Tzvi Horowitz, 1760-1827) pushes this question even one step further and invites us to ask this question in relationship to God! I know that this seems like a major leap - theologically, emotionally and intellectually. But nonetheless he does this based on the opening two verses of our torah portion that seemingly are very straight forward and innocent:

"And God spoke to Moshe saying: When you do take the sum [ki tisa] of the children of Yisrael [et rosh Bnei Yisrael] after their number [lif'kudei'hem]..." (Shmot/Exodus 30:11-12).

"כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל לפקודיהם"

In this classic translation there is nothing questionable about what is being said. We are asked to count the children of Israel, and we're taught that we do this by bringing half a shekel (one of the five designated commandments of Purim, that we just observed this past Sunday [or Monday in Yerushalayim]). Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105), who often is perceived as explaining the most basic interpretation of the Torah, draws upon the literal meaning of "ki tisa" and challenges us: the word tisa means to take, so surely the verse cannot be saying "when you take" because we don't literally take each person when counting them! Rashi relies on Unkelous (first century Sage) in his Aramaic translation of the Torah, to translate ki tisa as 'when you receive' - when you receive the half shekel that each person will be counted with.

The Chassidic Masters have alternate ways of interpreting this verse, and others like it, later in the Torah. The Ropshitzer Rebbe on our verse, the Mei HaShiloach (R' Mordechai Yosef Lainer of Ishbitza, 1800-1853) on a similar verse in the opening verses of the book of Bamidbar / Numbers ask of us to interpret the word verb 'laset' - ki tisa in our verse, se'oo in Bamidbar 1:2, indeed as 'lift up' - a legitimate translation of this word. For both of them, as Rashi himself alluded to, we are not physically lifting up a human being, but rather lifting up our 'rosh' / head - our consciousness! This would also be a way of interpreting Avraham lifting his eyes when he saw the angels/messengers/nomads coming towards him when sitting at the opening of his tent - he became aware of them.

In this reading we are no longer speaking of a literal counting of people, or even of shekel coins, but we are being asked to lift our consciousness, our awareness and our sense of accountability, to that which is higher than us.

You may now ask, 'to what and where are we meant to lift our consciousness and awareness?' Or perhaps, 'to whom are we accountable and who is accountable to us?' You may even pose, 'in what regard shall we do so?' It is with these questions that the Ropshitzer Rebbe leads us to the last word we quoted in the opening verses - 'lif'kudei'hem. Again, drawing on alternate translations he reads the word lif'kudei'hem as 'lack' / 'missing' - as when David was 'missing' / 'absent' from King Shaul's table "va'yi'paked m'kom David" (Shmuel / Samuel 1, 20:25).

The challenge of this reading is the meaning of raising our consciousness by virtue of articulating our lacks, the shortcoming of our lives. Is this possible?

It is here that the Ropshitzer Rebbe invites us to all be mystics for a moment and embrace a spiritual practice which may seem at first sight as counter intuitive. For the Ropshitzer Rebbe the one existential question is the Divine equilibrium. Truth be told, if all is in place in the Heavenly realm then all will be in balance in the human realm. It would be considered unfathomable to turn to God and ask God what is God lacking or missing in God's existence, so we turn to God and speak of our own lack and all those things in our lives that are not in place. For the Ropshitzer Rebbe this would be a form of 'mirroring' - by virtue of our speaking of our lack and needs, we are holding the space and illuminating the reality of lack for God. This is how he understands the realm of prayer. Though in the Sh'monah Esrei, the silent prayer, it seems that we are beseeching on our behalf, asking for livelihood, health, peace etc., the Ropshitzer Rebbe suggests that we are doing this as a way of asking God "How can we help You? How do you need to be manifested? What is necessary so that the Heavenly realm is whole and complete?"

For the Ropshitzer Rebbe our prayer is the way we say to God: "All I want is for you to be happy!" There is deep faith in his understanding that when our Creator is in a state of wholeness / completion / happiness then this state of presence will permeate our being as well, and will lead us to this state of existence.

It is important to remember that our integrity rises or falls on our intention - do we seek Divine happiness for the sake of Divine happiness or do we seek it for the personal benefit that we will reap from it. I believe that in those true love relationships in our lives we truly aspire for the first. We truly want the other to be happy for the sake of their personal happiness and not for the benefit that we'll reap from it. I truly believe this. And when we hear someone say to us "All I want is for you to be happy!" we receive it as their pure desire for our well being.

I return to my opening question as to identifying these people in our lives. On a personal note, this Shabbat sits comfortably between my lunar (Adar) and solar (March) fiftieth birthday. I have completed, with God's Grace, my first Yovel / Jubilee. I know that my parents, Moshe Refael (of blessed memory) and Frada Leah (may she be granted good health till 120 years) said, and say this to me every day since I was born, with their words and actions. I pray they heard, and hear me say it to them too. So many times I hear this from my students in their questions, smiles and glances as we walk by each other, as our eyes meet for a moment. I pray that they hear it from me as well.

Who are those people in your life that you will tell them, as part of your Shabbat preparation: "All I want is for you to be happy!"? And who, in their acts of love and kindness, in their prayers, do you hear them saying this to you?

Shabbat Shalom.