Can You Be Happy and Sad At the Same Time? Ask Yisro.

Find happiness by discovering and understanding your sadness, too.

A heartwarming reunion took place in Parshas Yisro. Moshe led the Jews out of Egypt and through the Red Sea to a miraculous survival in the barren desert. On their way, they met Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, who had been in Midyan and didn’t experience the Exodus.

When Moshe saw Yisro, they warmly embraced. In vivid detail, Moshe related the miracles of the Exodus and the splitting of the Red Sea to Yisro. Yisro was spellbound as Moshe enraptured him with descriptions of the plagues in Egypt, the miracles at the Yam Suf, and the victory in the ensuing war with Amalek.

The Torah describes Yisro’s reaction. ויחד יתרו – and Yisro had “Chad.” Rashi explains that the word Chad is like “Chedva,” jubilant rejoicing. Yisro was elated to hear about the miracles and the salvation that the Jews experienced. Not only were the Jews saved, his own family was involved and experienced it. Yisro had חדוה. 

Rashi then quotes the Gemara that interprets it differently. Yisro’s skin broke out. He was upset to hear Moshe’s description of the vanquish of the Egyptians. The word “Chad” means “sharp” and refers to חידודין – goosebumps, hives or skin irritation. Yisro was so disturbed at the downfall of the Egyptians that he had a severe dermatological reaction.

Despite Yisro’s identification with the Jews, He felt an emotional connection to the other side. He used to be a heathen and an advisor to Pharaoh in Egypt. He was forced to relocate to Midyan after he gave Pharaoh advice that Pharoah didn’t like. Some time later, Yisro embraced monotheism and Judaism.

When Yisro heard about the total defeat of the Egyptians, he couldn’t help but react negatively. He knew them and felt bad for them. Their suffering resonated with him so deeply that his skin showed it.

Does the contrast between the two meanings of “Chad” strike you as strange? On the one hand, it means that he was exuberant. On the other hand, he was crestfallen. Which one is it?

Yisro experienced true ambivalence.

In common speech, we use the term ambivalent to mean that we have mixed feelings. We are unsure and feel pulled – our feelings are ambiguous. Here’s an example:

“Do you want ice cream?”

”I am ambivalent. On the one hand, I love the taste, on the other hand, I don’t like the calories and fat.”

 I have a mix of feelings and I am unsure which one I should follow. I am ambivalent. The decision can be hard to make and I might feel frustrated.

Freud used ambivalence in a much deeper way. He saw ambivalence as experiencing two absolutely opposing feelings about something at the same time. It is a uniquely human ability to have both positive and negative feelings simultaneously . We can harbor both love and hate for something, or for someone. This awareness calls to attention things we sometimes don’t want to admit, or don’t want to feel.

For example, in a true sense, parents can love and hate their children. They can deeply adore their kids and find that life would be meaningless and unfulfilled without them. At the same time, they can hate them. They eat up their time, energy, money, and resources. It doesn’t sound nice or politically correct, but I might be the truest expression of deep human emotions. In the search for emes within oneself, it can be helpful to give words to that and acknowledge it. We are humans and Hashem gave us the ability to hold two completely opposite feelings at once. 

Rashi is telling us that Yisro has Freudian ambivalence. He was deeply happy to hear about the miracles of the Exodus. At the same time, he was deeply pained by it. Yisro had both, and Rashi calls attention to that complexity.

We can have ambivalence about the things that are most dear to us or most important in life. Rashi pointed it out about Yisro. Often, no one will point it out to us. Ambivalence is still there, but it’s hiding.

Can you allow yourself to be in touch with ambivalence about people and things in your life? If you do, it can make you happier, healthier, and more successful. It can also allow you to live life with a sense of truth.

Are you ready…or are you ambivalent?

Can You Celebrate Your Own Religious Personality?

What does Brachos 17 say about who you are?

Today’s daf (Berachos 17), delineates beautiful, personal prayers that the Amoraim davened at the end of their tefillah. These elaborate requests of the heart describe the struggles of deeply religious people navigating this world and request Divine Providence, assistance and connection.

Did you notice that none of the prayers resemble each other at all? Each one has its own verbiage, foci and imagery.

Why did the Talmud spend the better part of a page repeating these prayers?

The resounding message of the Gemara is that each of the Amoraim had a unique personality.  They were all devout people that shared absolute dedication to the same laws, values, and ideals. Simultaneously, that cadre encouraged personal expression and welcomed different foci on life. Each Amora’s tefilla is unique because each Amora had a different personality, way of seeing life’s vicissitudes, and way of connecting to Hashem.

Can you celebrate your uniqueness while you adhere steadfastly to your religious beliefs?