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If Only…


Have you ever thought to yourself: “If only I had this or that thing or situation, I would be happy…”?

It’s usually a fallacious reasoning. Joy does not depend on what we have or do not have, but on how we perceive what we have and do not have.

What better example than Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Did they lack anything? They managed, nevertheless, to complicate themselves on their own. There was only one tree whose fruits G-d had forbidden them to enjoy and they could not resist the temptation! And to make matters even worse, according to one of the opinions of our tradition, the tree in question was the vine and they had to abstain from its fruits for only a few hours until the Shabbat began, make the Kidush over the wine and thus inaugurate an eternal Shabbat.

Why couldn’t they resist?

It is human nature to want precisely that which one cannot have and not to value that which one does have.

It seems unbelievable – though it happens all too often – but when G-d rebuked Adam for having eaten from the tree, he blamed “the woman you gave to be with me” [1] for having offered him to eat from the tree. How ungrateful! G-d had given him a woman because he saw how much he suffered to be alone [2] and instead of appreciating the treasure he had, he let himself be distracted by what he didn’t have…

The Rebbe, may his merit shield us, in a letter [3] to an individual who had written to him complaining about life, writes:

“In the world in which we live, everything contains a mixture of good and evil. Man must choose which aspect he wants to emphasize, contemplate and pursue…

“How instructive it is that what our sages tell us that Adam was ungrateful. Even before he was expelled from the Garden of Eden (finding himself in Paradise, literally), he complained about his reality.

“On the other hand, there were Jewish men and women who thanked and blessed the Creator, reciting the morning blessings each day while living in the most atrocious conditions of the German concentration camps. Ultimately, each individual’s circumstances will lie somewhere between these two extremes.

“My goal is not to admonish him, but to highlight a reality: the kind of life we live, whether it will be full of satisfaction and meaning or the opposite, depends, to a great extent, on our desire, whether we place the emphasis on the positive or the negative.”

We are able to complain about conditions in paradise as well as feel gratitude in the most inhumane conditions of a concentration camp hell.

One of the Rebbe’s personal assistants, Rabbi Berl Junik, related how the Rebbe once confided in him saying: “I worked on myself to always see things in a positive light; otherwise I would not have been able to survive. [4] Knowing the personal suffering of all kinds that the Rebbe went through, as well as those of the thousands who shared their personal situations with him, one can appreciate that achieving such a perspective is no small accomplishment….

So this week’s “tool” is the following reflection: Are the circumstances of your life good or bad regardless of how you look at them or are they a consequence of it and  a change of attitude will be reflected in the reality you see?


1. Genesis 3:12. 2. Talmud, Avodah Zara 5b and Rashi’s commentary.

3. Igrot Kodesh vol. 20, p. 41.

4. Quoted in the Introduction to Positivity Bias, published by

First published on my blog at Times of Israel, November 6, 2019


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