Religious People Have Better Well Being Than Others – OpEd


Gallup World Poll data from 2012-2022 find, on a number of wellbeing measures, that people who are religious have better well being than people who are not,” according to the report published on October 10, 2023. Hasidic Rabbis have taught that for 250 years.

Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher and scholar of Hasidism, asserted more than a half century ago that, “the purpose of all great religions and religious movements is to engender a life of elation and fervor which no (later painful) experience can dampen and stifle.” In this light I offer a sample of Hasidic wisdom sayings that I believe can be used as a departure point by Priests and Ministers as well as Rabbis. 

For many people, Hasidic Jews are noticeable because of their Amish-like dress and ultra orthodox behavior. But it is their unique stress on trusting in God and elevating one’s soul through joyful religious activities that makes them distinctive. The following wisdom sayings give a taste of the inner spiritual life of Hassidim (Pious Jews).

One of the most important teachings of Hassidic Rabbis was not to worry about the future or sacrifice present joy because you fear it will not last very long. After all, most things people worry about never occur. As Rabbi Mordecai of Lekhovitz taught, “We must not worry. Only one worry is O.K.  We  should worry about (always) being worried.” 

Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk was very strict in selecting disciples. He asked each new student: “What hiddush (new insight) have you brought me?” A good teacher wants a disciple who is not only open to new insights from his teacher; but is capable of providing them for others.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel also taught: Strife exists only because each faction claims that (religious) TRUTH is on its side. When “Truth is cast to the ground” (Daniel 8:12) the automatic result is peace. He once asked his disciples “Where can you find God? The other sages say that God is everywhere. I say God is wherever a person lets God in.” 

He also replied to someone who reported that a man who had recently come to town was a miracle worker, by saying that producing miracles was not that difficult. The real challenge is to produce people who will believe in miracles.

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once referred to a certain Hasidic rabbi as “a righteous person in a fur coat.”, explaining: When it is winter and it’s freezing cold, there are two things one can do. One can build a fire, or one can wrap oneself in a fur coat. In both cases, the person is warm. But when one builds a fire, all who gather round will also be warmed. With a fur coat, the only one  warmed is the one who wears the coat. So it is regarding spiritual warmth — one can be a tzaddik in a fur coat….

Rabbi Mendel also told his disciples, “It is possible to bring the dead back to life. Even better is to bring the living back to life.”  

Rabbi Mendel then told his disciples: Souls descend from the higher world to our own by means of a ladder. Then the ladder is removed. Heaven calls the souls to return home. Some do not budge thinking it is impossible to rise to heaven without a ladder. Others jump up and fall back, jumping again and again until they despair of ever rising to heaven. Some souls, however, are aware that falling is inevitable yet they try again and again until the Holy One seizes them and pulls them home.  

Rabbi Yisachar Dov Ber of Radoshitz, a disciple of the seer of Lublin, once asked for the best way (path) to serve God.” His teacher replied, “it is impossible to tell (Jewish) people what way (all) Jews should take. One way to serve God is through study, another through prayer, another through fasting, and still another through eating. Everyone (Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims) should carefully observe what way (path) his heart draws him, and then choose this way with all his strength.”

Rabbi Ya’akov Leiner of Izbica-Radzyn said: “As long as Adam remained awake, the feminine aspect of humanity was indiscernible. Only after God cast Adam into a deep sleep could the feminine emerge.”  and “God, finally, will make it clear that, in truth, Adam ate only from the good part [of the knowledge of good and evil tree] thus, there was no sin. It only seemed so to Adam.

A woman once asked Rabbi Israel of Rizhin what it means to say someone has a holy spirit and he replied, “Every person starts with a spiritual soul and those who keep it from becoming impure, have a holy spirit”, as Isaiah [60:21] stated; “Your people are all Tzadikim”  

When Rabbi Hirsh returned from his wife’s funeral he was overheard saying to himself, “Up to now I was able to experience God’s presence here on earth through marriage. Now I shall have to experience God’s presence directly.” Two weeks later he died. 

Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol said, “My mother Mirl did not pray from a book because she could not read. All she knew was how to say the various blessings. But wherever she was when she said the morning blessings, that place radiated God’s presence the whole day.”

Before his death Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol said, “In the coming world they will not ask me why I wasn’t a Moses or a Rabbi Akiba? They will ask me why I wasn’t Zusya?”                                                                                                                                                                                            

Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn taught, “We paid no attention to the miracles our teacher worked, and when sometimes a miracle didn’t come to pass, he only gained in our eyes.”

Rabbi Shelomo of Karlin taught, “What is the worst thing Satan can accomplish? To make a person forget that he or she is a child of God.”

Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pzhysha taught, “The many sins most people commit are not great crimes. The great crime is that we are all capable of repentance/change/reform every day and we do not do it.”

When Rabbi Simcha Bunam lay dying his wife burst into tears. He said to her, “Please do not cry for me. My whole life was only that I might learn how to die.”

A Hassidic Sage who was near death got up and danced. When his disciples tried to stop him he said, “This is exactly the time to dance.” He then told them a story and concluded, “When they (life’s hardships) come to you with a very difficult demand, that is exactly the time to dance.”

Rabbi Michal of Zlotchov once said to his children, “My life was always blessed in that I never needed anything until I had it.”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Chabad was married for 60 years; and never had any children. The Talmud says you must divorce your wife if after ten years of marriage you are childless. The  Rebbe divorced and remarried his wife in the same night five times. That is what it means to be a Rebbe—to see through the Torah.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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