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Flow and Gratitude

According to halakha (Jewish law), when a person experiences a joyous event – such as buying a new piece of clothing, or meeting a long-lost friend – he is required to say the shehekheyanu blessing, thanking God who has “granted us life, sustained us, and brought us to this moment in time.”

When the joy is not merely individual but is shared with others, the blessing is a different one. As stated in the Talmud (Brachot 59b):

For his own [joy] he says: ‘Blessed is He ... who granted us life’; [but] for his own and someone else’s, he says: ‘Blessed is He Who is good and bestows good'

To understand why I feel the need tonight to recite the blessing for communal joy, we must understand the meaning of joy. Here I wish to mention the notion of “flow,” a term coined by one of the outstanding scholars of happiness in recent decades, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In our happiest moments, he suggests, we experience flow. But what is flow? He describes it as

being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.

Yesterday I spent the day with a group of advisors. One of members of this group suggested that we ask ourselves not only what are society's problems and what we have to offer in the way of solutions, but also a different question: To what extent are we making use of the opportunities we have?

And this is the reason for my joy: All of us here are making use of the unique opportunity we have to construct a "house of study" where we can participate together in "argument for the sake of heaven" about our common future.

While "street corner gossipers" preach division and hatred, we, the students in this house of study, choose a different path. In the spirit of this week's Torah portion, it is a path in which we “do not side with the majority to do wrong.”

Yes, we are a minority. But we are a minority that is slowly changing the face of Israeli society. I am happy, then, not because we have succeeded or because we have realized our vision, but because our whole being is involved and we are using our skills to the utmost.

Blessed is He Who is good and bestows good.

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