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     I popped into visit a friend, and noticed a new wall hanging in her kitchen…. “Happiness is Homemade”.

    I loved it. What an amazing message. We can all be “MasterChefs”, mixing together that which creates a happy home.

    “Ki Savo… And you will come”. The nation is about to enter Eretz Yisroel, the Promised Land. Time for goodbyes. Parting messages from Moshe to his beloved people.

    Moshe’s prophecy tells of the blessings of good times and prosperity that will come upon those who keep Torah and mitzvos. He also warns of difficult days when the words of Torah are not heeded, when HaShem’s commandments are not observed.

    Messages, not just for the people of his generation, but for all generations, messages for us.

    “Tachas asher lo avadetah es HaShem elokechah b’simchah u’vetuv leivav…, Because you did not serve HaShem with happiness and goodness of heart…” (Devarim 28:47)

    When our observance of mitzvos is lacking in happiness and enjoyment, difficult times will follow. It seems severe, hard to comprehend. The Torah is imparting to us the importance of the feelings behind our actions. If we wish to transmit a legacy of Torah values, of proper morals and ethics to our children and future generations, our fulfillment of mitzvos must be b’simchah, with happiness. It is in our hands.

    Our children watch and absorb how we live our lives. At times, our observance of mitzvos and rituals is by rote, accompanied by under-the-breath grumbling, sighs and a “let’s just get over with it” attitude. When the warmth and love in our performance mitzvos is not genuine, it’s hard for the links in the chain to remain unbroken.

    We want to make Torah sweet for our children. As we recite each morning in our prayers, “V’haarev nah HaShem elokeinu es divrei Toraschah b’finu…., Please, HaShem, sweeten in our mouths the words of your Torah…” We beseech HaShem to not only give us the strength and desire to observe mitzvos, but to perform them with an added measure of “sweetness”. 

    When we send our little ones off to yeshiva, their learning of the Aleph-Bet is reinforced with cookies in the shape of the letters. 

    Many shuls have a “candy man” ready to distribute sweets to the children who come for davening… or even just to get the candy. Come Shabbos, we treat our children to a “Shabbos party”. All to build a foundation of sweet memories.

    “Happiness is Homemade”. We are the builders of our homes. We have the power to set the tone.

    I remember my mother, the Rebbetzin a”h, teaching a class about the beauty of a Shabbos table. A table shared with family and/or friends. A table where beautiful zemiros and uplifting melodies are sung. A table that radiates warmth and love.

    After the class, so many would come over with questions and comments. One young man shared that he had just moved to a new apartment and was short on space…. Couch or dining table?

    My mother solved his decorating dilemma. After hearing about the joy of Shabbos, he opted for the table. A table to share the Shabbos spirit with friends and neighbors.

    But life is life – and it comes with its challenges. At times our heart is aching, our soul struggling, and we experience, frustrations, and even tragic events. Yet, the Mishnah teaches us that we are obligated to bless HaShem for the bad just as we bless Him for the good (Berachos 54a) How do we reconcile this? 

    While we know that everything is from HaShem, and though we may not always realize it at first, everything that we experience in life is really all for the best. It is precisely with this question that a chosid who was going through a difficult phase in his life approached his rebbe, the Magid of Mezeritch. How could he possibly be thankful to HaShem when things weren’t all going well for him? The Magid replied that he should travel to a remote city, and seek out Reb Zusha. He promised the chosid that upon meeting Reb Zusha he will discover the answer to his dilemma.

    And so the chosid set off on his journey. As soon as he entered Reb Zusha’s humble home, he saw abject poverty. The home was small, barely furnished. Food was scarce, and after meeting the family he realized that some were suffering from various illnesses. Yet, he was warmly welcomed, and Reb Zusha was eager to share the little that he had with his guest.

    The chosid couldn’t understand. Perhaps it was a mistake. How could Reb Zusha possibly resolve the dilemma that was troubling him?

    After a while, he couldn’t contain himself any longer, and revealed the reason for his visit. “Maybe Reb Zusha can explain how does one bless HaShem for both the good and the bad”?

    Reb Zusha was bewildered. He told the chosid that he couldn’t answer that question, for he never experienced any hardship. It was all good.

    Now the chosid understood his rebbe’s intent. Reb Zusha accepted whatever life dealt him. To him, it was all good. Reb Zusha taught him that one can be truly gratified and content despite what on the surface appear to be hardships. It’s all a mindset.

    The Baal Shem Tov taught, that the Hebrew letters in the word ‘b’simcha – happiness” can be rearranged to form the word “machshava – thought”. The mind is very powerful. We can think ourselves happy.

    Happiness doesn’t mean smiling all day, la-la land happy. For life has its ups and downs. But with it all, we have to train ourselves to live a happy-infused life. Yes, we can become MasterChefs and put together the ingredients for happiness.

    This week’s parshah gives us the formula: “V’samachtah b’chol hatov asher nossan lechah HaShem…, You shall be glad with all the goodness that HaShem has given you…” (Devarim 26:11). Each morning upon awakening, the first words we utter are “Modeh Ani…. Thank You HaShem…” Thank You for another day, Thank You for my life, Thank You for everything I have. 

    Today, gratitude lists, gratitude journals are very big. Make your list. Thank HaShem for all the good things in your life. In Shemoneh Esrei there is a Thanksgiving Prayer – Modim. The numerical value of Modim is 100. Just as we say 100 blessings each day, we should look for 100 blessings in our lives that we have to be grateful for.

    Gratitude leads to happiness. Learn to be thankful for what you have, instead of wishing to have what you want. HaShem knows exactly what each of us needs.

    Rosh HaShanah is approaching. The Apter Rov teaches that the word “b’simchah” has the same numerical value of 245 as the word “shanah”, alluding to our hopes that the coming shanah -year should be b’simchah – with happiness. But happiness only comes when we realize it is all good. It is all from HaShem.