I’m typing hurriedly in my lunch break again and this may be too big a subject to deal with in fifteen minutes, but here goes: I had a sobering, if not shocking thought last night.  For years I had been telling myself that what I want most of all in the world is to serve God wholeheartedly.  This, I realised yesterday, is a lie.  What I most want is to be happy: to have a reasonable degree of psychological stability, a loving wife, happy and healthy children and enough money that they don’t have to worry about the basics in life.

I don’t think this is a particularly shocking or unusual desire, but it does reframe my life.  When I told myself I wanted to serve God, I felt I should be satisfied with my mental health issues (because obviously He wants me to have them, so I was serving Him) and felt guilty for feeling pain and wanting the misery and loneliness to end.  Now I feel that my desires are at loggerheads with His desires for me, an argument I can not win.  I think I also consoled myself, at least unconsciously, regarding my perceived lowly position in the community by telling myself that even if I achieved less than others, I was aiming at a complete, wholehearted service that they probably did not even think about.

This morning, I was worried that I was losing my emunah, usually translated as ‘faith,’ but more accurately ‘fidelity,’ loyalty to God and the covenant despite obstacles.  I do not think that this is the case.  I still believe in God and I still want to serve Him and fulfil His commandments, despite the pain and suffering they often cause me (because of my mental health).  However, I can not lie to myself any more and say they are what I most want out of life and it is hard to know what I would do if presented with a direct choice between service and happiness, although for various reasons I suspect such a choice will never be presented to me in such stark terms.  For example, I would increase my dating pool enormously by dating non-Jews, but it is far from certain that I would find a wife even then e.g. my mental health issues would still be a problem and I am so steeped in Judaism that I would find it hard to build a relationship with someone totally estranged from it, so the stark choice of “Judaism or marriage” is unlikely to ever precisely manifest.

I do believe that God wants ‘good Jews’ to have successful, happy and loving marriages, happy, healthy children and financial security.  I do believe God wants us all to be happy, at least in the long-term, albeit that that happiness comes from growth which is often stimulated by pain and suffering.  Many Jews do get this on some level, so they are never faced with the choice between happiness and Jewish observance the way I have been faced with it, although so have even harder choices than I do (e.g. homosexual Orthodox Jews).  I do feel that I have had so much suffering that it is impossible to make anything other than getting away from such suffering my goal right now (right now or forever?  I just don’t know).  I do believe that happiness in this world rarely comes as an end in itself, but as a by-product of other ends, such as loving someone or pursuing a project or a cause.  Unfortunately, at the moment I do not have such a person to love or such a cause to pursue, so I am not sure where I go from here.

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2 thoughts on “Happiness vs. Service

  1. This concept of happiness vs mitzvos observance being a binary choice was one I struggled with as well. I can say from experience that it is possible to stay partially observant and married to a non-observant or non-jewish spouse, as long as your spouse is on board with some of the “inconveniences” of observance (Shabbos, kashrut) and you are on board with how that works out in the house including raising children. It also can require somewhat of a break with some of the halachot/minhag of rabbinic judaism, the difficulty of which I found to be eased by studying scholarly work about the real lives of people in Judah pre-exile. I do hope that you are able to find a middle ground, and I think in doing so you may find more joy in mitzvos than you might otherwise have found.

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  2. Thanks for your comment.

    I have no desire to marry a non-observant woman and certainly not a non-Jewish woman. That was just an example. I don’t want to break with halakhah, either to marry out in itself or to fit in with someone who isn’t frum.

    I think finding joy in mitzvot would be dependent on getting over my depressive anhedonia, which stops me enjoying anything at all. I don’t think mitzvot stop me being happy. I feel that God’s apparent desire that I serve Him by being mentally ill stops me being happy.

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