Halachah tries to train us to have our emotions by choice, not fate
The following stories will illustrate the issue
Jews must be good people. However, we are people, so we have all kinds of. Specially, a tendency to wickedness is not inherited in our time. In brief modern Hebrew, we say: Yesh weyesh: literally: You have, and you have, meaning: You have such and its opposite in every group. Nevertheless, or maybe because of this, Judaism tries to train us to be good-natured.
Yet, this has a terrible, life-threatening side-effect. It leaves us deadly naïve. Dishonest people can’t trust anyone. Honest people assume that everyone trustworthy. Peaceful people are already ‘reassured’ when a mass murderer (Arafat) smiles at them or wears a necktie. Therefore, I want rabbis to stay out of politics. Generally, way too naïve and decent.
My mother’s parents stepped on the train to Auschwitz and said to my mother: The People of Goethe won’t harm us. They didn’t realize it was also the People of the infamous Antisemite Martin Luther.
Many years after WWII, once, my sister still had to correct our mother with the words: Mother, not everyone is like you.
My daughter went with her high school on a trip to Ukraine. Pappa, I cannot believe it. Older people staring at us with so much hatred. For what? It was a shock, but finally, some of her Israeli nativity had died.
My oldest son went with his Yeshiva to the Nazi death camps. The rabbis prepared them for months so that it would be a good experience and not just traumatic. It shocked my son to the core but it didn’t break him.
He told me of their visit to Auschwitz. They read the names of the family members of the students who were murdered in the Holocaust. My son had to distribute pages of my list to help him read the over 100 names. After they had done the more serious work of Prayers and Kaddish, the rabbi directed them to take up the Israeli national Two-Color and to start dancing while singing: Israel Chai: The Jewish People is alive. The Gentiles guards couldn’t believe their eyes. Dozens of teens singing in Auschwitz in a circle, disciplined but exceedingly happy. They were only ‘happy’ after they drank lots of alcohol. After 20 minutes or so of this, in the middle of a song, the rabbi ordered them back to the buses. Now the mouths of the guards fell open the widest. To suddenly start dancing they knew of. But to stop on command, they obviously had never seen such a thing.
Feeling by Choice
And that is exactly what Jewish Law tries to teach us. As King Salomon tells us (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8): To everything there is an appropriate time.
We could be sad all the time. Jewish Law tells us when we have to be.
We could be happy all the time. Halachah tells us when we must be.
We could be emotional all day. Sometimes, we need to be just rational.
We could be smart all day. Sometimes, we just should feel our feelings.
I was taught even this has limits. To have a sliver of Shabbat on weekdays, and a little bit of sadness on Festival, because we only obey and serve G^d—not even our Jewish calendar. (Don’t worry: G^d told us to obey civil society and our parents (within limits), and respect each other, etc.)
That doesn’t mean that spontaneous feelings are forbidden. I’m a happy camper. Every 18 months or so, I feel a little depressed. I then understand it must be something important and immediately drop all jolliness. It lasts 1-3 days of introspection, and then, I return to the default. Spontaneous feelings should not be ignored. Yet, they shouldn’t just lead and define us.
BTW: Happy and sad are more similar than opposites. Laugh until you cry. Being cold and unemotional is the opposite of having any feelings.
That doesn’t mean that spontaneous prayers are forbidden. They’re often the strongest. Sometimes we pray harder outside of Shul. Which is fine.
During the funeral of my mother, I couldn’t find the right Psalm to say with everyone. My wife said: Just feel. This is the time.
The great Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal, found already centuries before the behavioral therapists that when you behave a certain way, the feelings will follow. Don’t sit around waiting to become happy. Pull up those corners of your mouth (mean it—no play acting), say something optimistic, think something optimistic, and you will find yourself happy.
The Torah tells us that when you see someone in trouble with whom you always quarrel, help him. That will rekindle your love for him.
So, the Hebrew Bible can tell us not to be jealous. Our Prayerbook directs us to be happy in Israel. Jewish Law tells us to love our spouses.
Thus we accepted G^d’s Instructions: Naasey weNishmah: We will [each] do [as You tell us], and then we’ll [each] appreciate [it, retroactively].
Ellul, the Last Month of the Jewish Year
There is the following story to teach us how to be in Ellul.
Once upon a time, there was a clever guy who thought of making a lot of money. OK, it was illegal, but only one time, so he convinced himself it was not so bad. He organized a whole bunch of assistants to help him smuggle an enormous wagon with contraband over the border. If they’d succeed, they’d be rich for the rest of their lives.
A month before the happening, the organizer got worried. If they were caught, he would go to jail for decades. No happily ever after. A week before the journey, the assistants got worried. If they failed, jail awaited them, not money. Only the horses were not scared.
A month before Rosh haShannah, the righteous, the organizers, become worried. (Also, the Mizrachic Jews start Seleechot.) A week before Rosh haShannah, the regular people, the ones instructed, get worried. (Also, the Ashkenazic Jews start Seleechot.) Only, don’t be like the horses.
In Ellul, G^d is so close (until the end of Yom Kippur). Talk to Him.