Collecting Corks

Rabbi Shmuel Miller

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Rabbi Dr. Abraham J Twerski, founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center for Addiction Recovery, was asked to come out to the UK to address all those involved in Jewish education.  At that time, I was an outreach Rabbi based in a suburb of London and teaching at a Jewish high school. 

The room was packed, and each of us was noting each pearl of wisdom and life-experience Rabbi Dr. Twerski had to share.  In the course of his presentation, he recalled the ‘War on Drugs’ campaign that First Lady Nancy Reagan spearheaded in the mid-1980s. Her slogan was, “Just Say No To Drugs.” I was in high school then, so for me the slogan was most commonly found on the inside of the flap of Ferrara Pan candies. (I’m still not sure of the connection between drug use and Lemonheads.)  

Rabbi Dr. Twerski recalled having a team meeting with his staff shortly after the campaign was launched and one of the psychiatrists insightfully commented: Telling people to “Just say no to drugs,” is like telling a homeless person  “Just go buy a house.” The idea is great; how to get there- that’s the challenge. 

Similarly, when the month of Adar begins, the slogan is ‘Marbim b’Simcha- increase our Simcha’- Just be happier. 

Alright then. What could be so difficult about that? My guess if you are reading this you are well into your ASDP (Adar Simcha Development Program). So… how’s it going? Dancing out of bed? Cartwheels into your car? Smiling in traffic? Laughing in long lines? (You may email me directly. No need to write a letter to the editor.) 

My guess is that some of you may be having the same struggle I have, namely, HOW IN THE WORLD DO I INCREASE MY SIMCHA? What’s the plan? Do we not need to have some Simcha already in order to increase it? How can we come into Purim with our Simcha-feet running? 

I’d like to share one practical exercise that has helped me. 

But first, I would like to suggest a working definition of Simcha. What makes an event a Simcha and what makes it a party? One answer: A Simcha is where the Almighty is invited.  

Consider this: One can be an Orthopractic Jew (I’m coining this term as of now. It’s mine. You may use it but only if you give me a Lemonhead) and do all the right things, check all the boxes and yet still not have invited the Almighty into their ritual. In our routine, it’s natural to overlook the fact that all of the Mitzvot are opportunities to stay aware of and strengthen our relationship with Hashem. 

One year ago, with this definition and with the challenge of owning and increasing my own Simcha, I began to save the cork from each bottle of wine that I opened. It was at a time that I was not feeling Hashem. Oh, I knew He was everywhere. I just didn’t feel Him.  

For me, opening a bottle of wine represents the beginning of a spiritual celebration. Kiddush, a Seudat Mitzvah, seeing friends I haven’t seen for some time, or feeling grateful for having experienced a close call- each are causes to not only make a l’Chayim, but to remember to invite the Almighty in, on a heart level. 

I found that prior to collecting these corks, I was saying things like ‘Baruch Hashem, it’s so good for us to be together….’ Yet once the event was over, it faded in my memory as the next challenge or distraction presented itself.  

Looking at my glass jar of corks reminds me not only of how many causes I had, Baruch Hashem, to celebrate, but of my opportunity to keep Him in the details of my life.  Even when I am not making a l’Chayim at the moment.  

Whether it is corks, receipts from a full shopping, melted wax from your Havdalah candle (yes, my sister and brother-in-law have a plate with wax from every Havdalah they’ve shared together since they were married 19 years ago), or whatever item reminds that you to hold the awareness of Hashem close to you, start collecting them. 

With these, we can come into Purim, even if just days prior, with Simcha that can be increased. 

Marbim b’Simcha is no longer a mere a slogan, it is a working plan of action to invite and celebrate Godliness in our lives. 

 

Rabbi Shmuel Miller is the Director of Advancement at SCY HIGH school in San Diego, California, and founder of MentorYourMoment.com.