The last day of the High Holiday season has just passed. A famous parable compares Shemini Atzeret to longing for just a bit more by presenting us with a king who asks his son to stay with him just one more day, and to share a small meal with him before he leaves the palace. There are no specific practices for Shemini Atzeret or Simchas Torah. No succah. No four minim (the palm frond, citron, myrtle and willow branches that the Torah requies that we wave on succos). "Just be happy" the text tells you. Just that. Nothing more.
Most of the time there is a trigger that you think you have to press to turn on the happiness button. Reading a really marvelous book, shmoozing with a friend, walking along the beach or deep in the silence of hills and trees all do it for me. For you there may be an entirely different set of triggers. It's not always easy to be in touch with the part of you that is just happy without any "because" cluttering up the scene. That would take you to your core; your essence, that part of you is in G-d's image, and the inarticulate love of life itself can be found only there. The word for "essence" in Hebrew is etzem. It literally means bone. What possible connection can there be between the two words?
Think about all of the parts of your body that work in such amazing, almost symphonic rythm. The heart pumps blood, the eyes see, the mind analyzes and programs continually as your five senses feed it more and more information. Your bones just are. After you die, they are left behind as your only remaining self-statement. They are as close to being your etzem, your essence, as anything possibly could be. Once you get to know that part of you, the part of you that is the you that is, not the you that does, you can begin to understand and appreciate Shemini Atzeret.
Don't do anything else, the King says. Just stay.
An acquaintance of mine had a moment before the holiday that put him in touch with that part of himself. There was an only-in-Israel traffic nightmare. The cars were lined up like elephants in a circus side show waiting to be led into the big top. After a half hour of absolute immobility near Motza junction, our hero opened the door and got out of the car. Instead of aimlessly pacing, or sharing informative insights (gee, this is gonna set a record) with his fellow drivers, he looked upward. The usual light show was on. Every conceivable color was there. Blues and greens, orange, red, and even bits of purple. A Yerushalmi sunset in all of its power and beauty. "Just this once" he asked G-d, "Do a Selfie"…
Each one of the 248 limbs and organs in your body can be "activated" into becoming more connected to your esential self, your etzem. The 248 positive mitzvot parallel each of them. When you do a mitzvah you generate a connection. The end result is that your body and your soul are walking down the same road, and that your sense of purposefulness generates love of life.
A friend of mine recently tried (with some degree of success) to interest me in eating more healthfully. My problem is that being a dinasour, I can recall when most of what we consider unhealthy was healthy (as a child I was urged to drink at least three glasses of whole milk daily…), and what was then a ‘No No’ (butter was one) is now okay. I decided to research more on logeivity. What I discovered is that having a sense of purpose is one of the most unchanging factors in longevity.
Love of life is a signficant factor.
The five places in the world that enjoy the highest longevity don't share a commmon diet, but they all have lifestyles that include the soul, body and the emotions. They have a sense of purpose and socialize daily.
Is finance a factor?
Angola which has one of the lowest life expectancies is a place where the basic necessities are beyond the reach of millions of people. The stress of economic deprivation also takes a toll when you look at life expectancy. In Israel, the community with the lowest life expectancy is Rahat, a Beduin town. The exception to "earn more live longer" are two cities: Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak. It seems that the life force that flows through peoples veins via the mitzvos are real enough to shake up the stats.
Now that the holidays are over, it's time to get back to real life. You can do it in a way that you are really alive! Just stay in touch with your essential self.