Just released! Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom. Click here to order.
Human beings are pleasure-seekers. Most people seek pleasure in careers, vacations, cars and homes. In our generation, many people grumble about obligations as unpleasant aggravations. Perhaps that's why many today wait so long to get married. Imagine being tied down with responsibilities and children to support!
This is a shallow view. It may be difficult to fulfill obligations, but there's tremendous pleasure in getting done what has to get done. You're actualizing your potential. That's real meaning, real pleasure. It's energizing.
Way #33 is Ohev et ha'tzedakot – literally "love righteousness." Once you realize the pleasure of fulfilling obligations, it's much easier to carry them out. And if you have to do them anyway, you might as well take pleasure!
Good Deeds, Good Times
Here's an example of how fulfilling an obligation can be a pleasure, instead of an onerous responsibility:
You're in the checkout line at the supermarket and the clerk gives you too much change. So you smile proudly and return the excess.
How do you feel?
Like a million bucks. You did the right thing. You're a good person.
Imagine how delicious this pleasure is. A little nibble makes you feel great. You refrained from stealing a few pennies. Something so trivial, yet it makes you feel like a hero.
Now imagine you're sitting on a park bench. A fellow walks by and an envelope falls out of his pocket. You say, "Excuse me, sir, you dropped an envelope."
He says, "Oh my gosh, you saved my life. I can't believe it. Do you know what's in that envelope? My life's savings! If I lost it, I'd have gone berserk!"
Now how do you feel?
Incredible! You're not just returning spare change; you practically saved the guy's life!
The lesson here is that if there's pleasure in fulfilling an easy obligation, then there's enormous pleasure in the difficult ones!
Body vs. Soul
What determines whether we view obligations as a cause for distress, or as a delight? Whether we view ourselves primarily as a "body" or as a "soul."
Bodies do not like obligations, because they require effort. The body would rather be on vacation.
Souls thrive on obligations. It gives a sense of importance, dignity, eternity.
Figure out what's really important in life. When you have that clarity, then you're willing to ignore the body's complaints – and listen to the yearnings of the soul. And then you'll identify with the soul's desire to fulfill obligations.
Being Good is Doing Yourself a Favor
Why do we have such a strong drive to be "good?" Because the perception of self as "good " is a fundamental need of every human. It is this self-respect and self esteem that energizes us for living. If a person doesn't think he's good, he loses much of the will to live.
Think about it: When you help an old lady across the street, as much benefit as she gets from it, the sense of satisfaction you feel is even greater! Considering the energy we get from doing a good deed, it's a wonder why people don't run around helping all day long!
Imagine you are on vacation in New York City, sightseeing in one of those excursion boat rides around Manhattan Island. As you are admiring the Statue of Liberty, one of the other sightseers falls off the boat. He can't swim… he's drowning. So you jump into the East River – filthy with garbage, dead fish – but you don't care, you are trying to save a life. You grab him, he struggles… you go under the murky water. Finally he stops struggling, but he is heavy as lead. You pull him with all your might… you are gasping, the water stinks.
Finally, after what seems like eternity, you drag him to the shore. People are there to lend a hand, and an ambulance takes the drowning victim to the hospital. Thank God, he's alive, coughing and spitting a little murky water, but he's gonna be okay. You go back to your hotel and take a dozen showers to wash off the muck and smell of rotting fish. You say, "I'm never coming back here for the rest of my life!"
Now 30 years and 100 vacations later, what is your most memorable vacation? It was the time the guy fell off the boat and you saved a life!
When all is said and done, doing the right thing is always the greatest pleasure.
The trick, therefore, is to focus on the benefits of fulfilling obligations. Rather than simply "throwing yourself" into an obligation, anticipate it in a positive light. Ask yourself: "What pleasure will come as a result of this?"
Then afterwards, pause to enjoy the pleasure. Make note of that feeling, so you can call upon it next time.
As a practical step, make plans to do good deeds. Call a friend who needs some cheering up, or offer to buy groceries for a sick person, or make inquiries to help someone get a job. When you do these things, doesn't your self-respect shoot up?
Seeing ourselves as "good" is the fuel that drives our tank and pulls us out of bed in the morning. Don't stand in the way of a human being who's striving to be good. He'll steamroll right over you!
Rights vs. Obligations
In the good ole days, the idea of civic responsibility was a standard part of American society. But today we live in a society where everyone seems concerned about their rights: "What's in it for me? What do I get out of it?"
The Jewish perspective, however, is always from the standpoint of responsibility. For example, when the Talmud discusses property damage, it always states the law in terms of "Joe is responsible to pay Bob," as opposed to "Bob has the right to collect from Joe."
The Sages say: "Greater is someone who does a good deed by being commanded, than one who does so voluntarily." Why? Because when we're obligated, our desire for independence makes us resistant. So if we can overcome that to perform the good deed, then we're a bigger person because of it.
From an early age, it's important to educate children to fulfill obligations. To ensure they grow from experiences, stop a child after he's done a good deed and ask him how it feels. Then ask him, "Would you sell this pleasure for a dollar?" No way! This demonstrates to children the preciousness of doing good deeds.
Make a list of your obligations to mankind, God, society, family, friends, teachers, self. Then enjoy fulfilling them.
The Deepest Obligations
Judaism says that our greatest obligation is to become great. God gave us the tools and we mustn't squander them.
That's why wisdom is an obligation. Wisdom is the water that helps us grow. Without it, we get stuck. For many people, their primary struggle is not over "doing the right thing," but rather not being sure what the right thing is!
Happiness is also an obligation. Western society thinks that happiness is optional. ("If I want to be depressed, that's my prerogative.") But really, being happy is part of being considerate to those around us. When a person lives optimistically and joyfully, his energy spreads. A miserable person, likewise, spreads misery.
Imagine how you would feel if your parents or your friends were always unhappy. Wouldn't it drag you down? So work on giving happiness to others, just as you'd want them to give you.
WHY IS "FULFILLING OBLIGATIONS" A WAY TO WISDOM?
- To be a good person, you need to enjoy being good.
- Obligations are easier when you get in touch with the pleasure of doing the right thing.
- Doing the right thing is a soul experience, a far greater pleasure than material success.
- After a difficult task, pause to reflect how great you feel.
- Obligations help us to actualize our potential.
- Obligations are inevitable in life, so you might as well enjoy them!
Just released! Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom. Click here to order.